Letters: Lawyers cautioned to back off from TWU law school decision

Dear Editor,

Fundamental Freedoms cannot be determined by a poll: Trinity Western University law school accreditation should be subject to the law, not a referendum.

As a legislator and the Member of Parliament for Langley, I have watched with great concern as Canadian rights and freedoms are at the centre of a debate between Trinity Western University (TWU) and the Law Society of BC, as TWU seeks to establish a private, faith-based law school.

Some members of the Law Society have expressed disagreement with TWU’s Community Covenant, which asks students, staff, and faculty to practice abstinence if single, and to respect the traditional definition of marriage.

The voluntary Covenant does not forbid graduates from fulfilling the obligations and oaths of their chosen professions. It simply affirms the religious beliefs that TWU was founded upon.

In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that TWU’s Community Covenant balances the rights and freedoms of equality, belief, and religion.

Religious organizations have the Charter right to have a statement of faith. This was recently affirmed by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, and reaffirmed by the Law Society of B.C in April 2014, when the Benchers voted to grant accreditation to TWU’s law school.

In June 2014, at a special general meeting, less than a third of the membership of the Law Society of BC voted to deny accreditation to TWU’s law school.

Then, on Sept. 26, 2014, they decided to hold a binding referendum among the Society’s members by Oct. 30.

By doing so, I believe that the Law Society has made a serious mistake that could cast a shroud of doubt over the entire legal profession.

The Government’s role is to create laws which balance all rights to maximize the freedoms of all Canadians.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s role is to decide legal issues of public importance, thereby contributing to the development of all branches of law applicable within Canada.

The independence of the Court, the quality of its work, and its esteem contribute significantly as foundations for a secure, strong, and democratic country like Canada that is founded on the rule of law. Its decisions are the ultimate expression and application of Canadian law and binding upon all lower courts of Canada.

The role of Canadian lawyers is to “uphold the law and the rights and freedoms of all persons” and to never “pervert the law to favour or prejudice anyone.”

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects and enshrines the rights and freedoms of all Canadians in law:

“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and (d) freedom of association.”

Every time legislation is introduced in Canada, it must be in line with the Charter. If it is not, amendments are required to ensure that the rights and freedoms of all Canadians are upheld.

This question was considered in 2005 regarding the Civil Marriage Act, which recognizes our freedoms when it states: “It is not against the public interest to hold and publicly express diverse views on marriage” (preamble, s.3.1).

It further outlines, “No person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit, or be subject to any obligation or sanction… by reason of their exercise… of the freedom of conscience and religion… or expression of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others based on that guaranteed freedom.” (s.3.1).

If the Law Society of BC proceeds to conduct a binding referendum that attempts to deny accreditation to TWU’s law school, prior to the Supreme

Court making a decision on TWU vs the Law Society of Upper Canada, I believe they would be trying to rewrite Canadian law by using an opinion poll based on their beliefs and biases.

I refer them again to the Barrister’s and Solicitor’s Oath that they took when they became lawyers, which states, “uphold the law and the rights and freedoms of all persons” and to never “pervert the law to favour or prejudice anyone.”

The attempt of Law Societies to discriminate against some of Canada’s brightest and talented future lawyers would prohibit them from practicing law in Canada, simply because of their Christian faith.

This is a dangerous attack on our religious freedoms in Canada, and needs to be condemned.

Who might be the next victims of intolerance – teachers, doctors, politicians, clergy, parents, you, me?

The Supreme Court will make the final ruling on whether to accredit TWU’s law school. Let us hope that earlier wisdom prevails when B.C. lawyers participate in their referendum.

Let us hope that lawyers fulfill their oath to protect our rights and freedoms, not attack them. The integrity and credibility of the legal profession in B.C. hangs in the balance.  

Mark Warawa, MP for Langley

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