Release: BC Court of Appeal decision a disappointing loss for equality

VANCOUVER – In a step backward for the legal profession, the BC Court of Appeal (“BCCA”) has dismissed an appeal regarding the Law Society of BC’s rejection of the proposed law school at Trinity Western University (“TWU”). In Trinity Western University and Brayden Volkenant v Law Society of British Columbia, the BCCA found that the Law Society’s decision not to approve TWU’s law school is unreasonable because it unduly limits freedom of religion.

The case concerns TWU’s community covenant which applies to all TWU students, staff, and faculty members. The covenant prohibits all sexual expression outside a heterosexual marriage relationship and violates women’s reproductive rights by banning abortion. Noncompliance with the covenant may result in sanctions or expulsion from the university. Students applying to TWU’s proposed law school would be subject to all terms of its community covenant.

West Coast LEAF intervened in support of the Law Society’s decision not to accredit TWU’s law school. We argued at the BCCA, as we did at the BC Supreme Court, that the Law Society’s decision reflects a proper weighing of the rights at stake by upholding the fundamental right to equality enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“We are extremely disappointed that the decision did not take seriously the discriminatory impacts of the Covenant on potential LGBTQ and female students, staff, and faculty – in fact, the Court seems to have completely ignored the impacts on women’s rights” says Raji Mangat, Director of Litigation at West Coast LEAF. “The freedom to hold religious beliefs is an important constitutional right, but in this case, what is at stake is more than belief. It is the ability to act on those beliefs in a discriminatory way, and we say that the government cannot condone such discrimination in the name of religion.”

West Coast LEAF maintains that legal education must be accessible regardless of an applicant’s sexual orientation, marital status, or gender. A Canadian law school whose purpose is to educate future lawyers and judges cannot make admission contingent on abiding by policies and practices that contravene fundamental rights and principles enshrined in our Constitution.

“Having a separate law school that effectively excludes LGBTQ people and women who may want to exercise their rights to reproductive freedom hearkens back to an era of segregation,” says Kasari Govender, Executive Director of West Coast LEAF. “Just as separate water fountains or areas of the bus are understood as historical hallmarks of racism, separate educational institutions undermine our constitutional guarantee of equality today.”

Read more about West Coast LEAF’s work on this case, including the arguments we made at the BC Supreme Court and at the BCCA. We anticipate that this case will proceed to the Supreme Court of Canada.