Supreme Court hearing appeals over B.C. Christian law school
Jackie Dunham, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, November 30, 2017 1:13PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 30, 2017 5:18PM EST
The Supreme Court of Canada is hearing arguments in a lengthy court battle over a British Columbia Christian university’s proposed law school, which would ban students from engaging in sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage.
The case dates back to 2014, when law societies in B.C., Ontario and Nova Scotia went to court to argue against accrediting graduates of Trinity Western University’s planned law school, which was scheduled to open in 2016.
The law societies’ dispute with TWU’s law school stems from its controversial code of conduct or “community covenant,” which requires students to pledge that they will abstain from sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage.
The Christian university won in appeals courts in B.C. and Nova Scotia, but lost when the Court of Appeal for Ontario sided with that province’s law society’s decision to not accredit TWU alumni.
TWU President Bob Kuhn tells CTV News Channel that he believes the covenant is a matter of freedom of religion and conscience, a right that he says must be balanced with the right to equality.
“Canada has a place for a small law school that reflects the values of an evangelical Christian body,” Kuhn said. “There should be enough in the definition of diversity in our country to address that need and accommodate that need,” he added.
Kuhn also said that Trinity Western has a “wide-range of students from many background including different sexual orientations.”
“We’ve been characterized as a warm, inviting student body and administration and professors,” Kuhn said. “I don’t think that’s often recognized.”
Edward Prutschi, CTV’s legal analyst, agreed that the Supreme Court will have to balance freedom of religion and freedom of equality in its final judgment.
“What happens when a religion’s rights, when a religion’s perspectives, they come into conflict, they don’t jive, with more general rights of equality and fairness under the Charter and under Canadian values?” Prutschi told CTV News Channel. “What do you do in that circumstance?”
This isn’t the first time the university has argued its case before the Supreme Court. In 2001, the school won its case for a teachers’ college after various teachers’ colleges refused accreditation for its graduates.
Even though the university won that earlier case, Prutschi said he’s not so sure they will be successful this time around because times have changed and there are different judges on the Supreme Court now.
“It’s going to come down to the Supreme Court,” he said. “They’re going to be asking a lot of tough questions.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments for two full days before it renders a decision. Prutschi said he expects it will be four to six months before the judges deliver a verdict. He said he expects the decision to have important implications for other religions as well.
“The precedent that is set here is going to be enormous one way or the other,” he said.
With files from Josh Dehaas