Release: BC Supreme Court sets aside decision to deny accreditation to Trinity Western law school for procedural reasons
VANCOUVER – Today, in Trinity Western University and Brayden Volkenant v. Law Society of British Columbia, the BC Supreme Court found that the Law Society of BC made procedural errors when it decided to deny the accreditation of a proposed law school at Trinity Western University. The Court set aside the Law Society’s decision finding that it did not properly exercise its discretion and failed to adequately weigh the competing rights at stake in the case.
“We are very disappointed that the decision did not engage with the human rights issues at stake in the case, instead deciding the case on procedural grounds,” noted Kendra Milne, Director of Law Reform at West Coast LEAF. “BC lawyers voted twice and made it very clear that they want an inclusive profession that respects equality.”
West Coast LEAF was granted leave to intervene in the August 2015 hearing where we argued that the Law Society’s decision to deny accreditation upholds the equality rights set out in the Charter. Trinity Western requires students and faculty to sign a covenant with the University which prohibits sexual expression outside of marriage between a man and a woman. Trinity Western also restricts the reproductive rights of its community members. Students and faculty who do not comply with these requirements may be expelled, or otherwise sanctioned. To be granted public accreditation by the Law Society, we argued that law schools must be accessible to everyone regardless of sexual orientation, marital status or gender.
The BC Supreme Court found that the Law Society failed to properly consider and balance the Charter rights at stake when it voted to refuse to accredit Trinity Western on the basis of a binding membership referendum. The Court quashed the Law Society’s decision and reinstated an earlier decision when the Law Society approved the accreditation of Trinity Western’s law school. It is not yet known whether the Law Society of BC will appeal the decision.
“Today’s decision acknowledges that there is a need to balance freedom of religion and equality rights in this case. It is unfortunate that this important issue, which engages fundamental rights, was not resolved in the decision and that the procedural issues in the case may cause additional delays in having these important issues determined,” said Milne.