Supreme Court of Canada Rules Against Trinity Western Law School

Judges voted 7 to 2 in favour of law societies denying accreditation to schools that discriminate against LGBTQ+ students

Trinity Western University has been involved in a number of legal disputes that stem from their implementation of a covenant agreement that is mandatory for students to sign. (Braden Klassen)

On June 15, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favor of the law societies of B.C. and Ontario, confirming the societies’ right to deny accreditation to Trinity Western University’s proposed law school due to its lack of accessibility for all students.

At the heart of the controversy is TWU’s mandatory community covenant. The covenant is a strict student code of conduct which includes abstaining from sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Many viewed this clause as discriminatory to LGBTQ+ students.

In its decision, the Supreme Court wrote that it’s “proportionate and reasonable” to limit religious rights in order to ensure open access for LGBTQ+ students. According to a CBC report, the majority judgement believed that the covenant would deter LGBTQ+ students from attending TWU’s proposed law school, and that the LGBTQ+ students who did attend would be at risk of harm.

“At the heart of the Supreme Court’s decision is a recognition of the responsibility of the Law Society to uphold the rights of all persons and to protect the public interest,” said Law Society President Miriam Kresivo in a press release.

According to Earl Phillips, the executive director of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school, the mood at the Langley-based university was somber following the decision.

“I think we’re all disappointed,” says Phillips. “And I think disappointment is the key word.”

Phillips says he’s dismayed by the “idea that diversity in Canada does not have room for a law school at a small Christian university that holds to traditional Christian values.”

He explains that there are a number of options which could be taken to change the community covenant. Before a decision is reached, however, he feels that TWU “as a community needs to take a good, long, hard look at everything.”

“That’s what we’re in the process of doing,” he says.

Phillips also acknowledges the hardships that the LGBTQ community has endured.

“I think those legitimate concerns that they have are very prominent and I think there’s a fear that a law school at Trinity would be a backwards step for them,” he says.

While he understands the other half of the argument, he does not necessarily agree with it. In his opinion, Canada’s mosaic of races, ethnicities, religions, cultures, and sexual orientations allow diversity to be Canada’s strength, but says it can only be achieved if all differences are allowed.

“[Diversity] will only be our strength if we allow difference and then work together on how we are going to live and work together peacefully and productively despite difference,” says Phillips.

In a statement, the Law Society of B.C. wrote that “everyone should have equal access to law school” and that the “covenant that students of Trinity Western University must sign infringes the access of those in the LGBTQ community and those in committed common-law relationships.”

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