Today, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms submitted an argument to the Ontario Supreme Court defending recognition of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school.
Trinity Western University (TWU) is an evangelical Christian university in Langley, whose students agree to live according to traditional Christian values. All students sign the Community Covenant, which demands that students abstain from non-heterosexual and non-martial sex, as well as drunkenness and obscene language.
The law societies of B.C., Nova Scotia and Ontario have ruled against recognizing TWU’s proposed law school.
“The argument [against the law school] is that … Trinity Western discriminates against gays and lesbians and that, therefore, the law program or, by extension, its teaching program or nursing program or any other program is not valid,” said John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF).
The Canadian Council of Law Deans previously expressed concerns over how the gay community would be negatively impacted if the school opened.
“Lawyers from various communities in Canada all have a professional obligation to act with integrity towards their clients and we certainly believe that lawyers from outside the Christian community are able to act with integrity toward Christian clients,” said Guy Saffold, special assistant to the President at TWU. “Like all lawyers, they would do the very best they could for their clients and that’s what we would train our lawyers to do as well.”
According to Saffold, TWU had hoped to open the law school in the fall of 2016 but “we certainly can’t open until we have all of the necessary accreditation approvals in place.”
The JCCF has been granted intervener status in the three separate court cases involving the three law societies that refused to recognize TWU’s law school despite approval from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. Intervener status refers to a party being granted standing in a case because they have a unique perspective despite no direct interest in the case.
According to Carpay, the perspective the JCCF brings has to do with freedom of association, the right to form voluntary societies or groups.
“What we’re arguing is that if the court rules against Trinity Western, they’ll have a negative impact on every charity, temple, ethnic association, sports association, cultural association, theatre group [and] political association,” said Carpay.
In other words, today the JCCF defends TWU’s law program by arguing that voluntary associations should not be forced to change what they have set as their own requirements and standards.
“Part of remaining a free country is that each association can set its own rules and when you have a situation where people disagree with the association can demand that it change, then it undermines the rights of everybody to form the groups and societies that they want to form,” said Carpay.
Carpay also noted that freedom of association protects all groups.
“If there’s an evangelical Christian or a Muslim who disagreed with gay sex…that person would not be welcome to join Out For Kicks gay soccer league,” said Carpay. “If somebody like that had a legal right to force changes on Out For Kicks, then Out For Kicks would lose its freedom of association…the freedom of association protects gay and lesbian association as much as it protects the rights of any other.”
The JCCF also intervened at a previous Nova Scotia Supreme Court case. According to Carpay, in all three cases the JCCF were “submitting fundamentally the same arguments.” In January, the court ruled in TWU’s favour based on freedom of association. If TWU lost the case that is currently ongoing, Saffold anticipates that the school would appeal the ruling.
“This is an usual expense for us,” said Saffold, when asked where the funding was coming from to fund the various court actions. “Fortunately we have people who care deeply for the university and for issues of freedom of expression and conscious who’ve stepped forward.”
When asked whether he expects the Ontario court to rule in favour of TWU, Carpay said, “we’re hopeful.” However, the case bears many similarities to a previous case between TWU and the BC College of Teachers, which TWU won.
The college rejected certifying the teaching program at TWU due to the same section of the community covenant agreement that pledges, “sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman.” In this case, the court ruled 8 to 1 in favour of TWU.