The High Stakes in TWU v. The Law Society of British Columbia: Ensuring Equal Access to the Legal Profession

On August 25, 2015 Chief Justice Hinkson will hear Trinity Western University’s Petition against the Law Society of British Columbia for refusing to grant approval of its proposed faculty of law for the purpose of admission to the Law Society.

The Law Society’s main concern with TWU’s proposed faculty of law is its “Community Covenant” — a document students must sign promising to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” The effect of the Covenant would be to exclude LGBTQ candidates from attending TWU’s proposed school of law.

Given the historical disadvantage faced by LGBTQ persons, and the legal profession’s history of discriminatory exclusion (for example, women were barred from entering the legal profession until 1912, and aboriginal people could not become lawyers until 1949) the Law Society viewed its approval of a law school that discriminates as one that would cause serious harm to LGBTQ individuals, and undermine public confidence in its ability to uphold its mandate to act in the public interest by preserving and protecting  the rights and freedoms of all individuals.

TWU is a private Evangelical Christian university. It claims a right to Law Society approval on the basis that the Law Society cannot consider whether or not it discriminates, and because its religious freedom requires the approval.

Ultimately, this case is about ensuring that all Canadians have equal access to the legal profession without discrimination based on personal characteristics like sexual orientation, which are immutable or which can only be changed at great personal cost. As a firm that primarily represents aboriginal people – individuals and groups that have suffered grievous current and historic discrimination in Canada –  JFK Law has a special concern about ending all forms of discrimination in the law, the legal profession and legal education. For any law school to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race or other grounds, whether on the basis of religious freedom or otherwise, is contrary to the interests of justice and public policy.

Religious freedom in Canada means we have the right to our religious beliefs, but the right is circumscribed when it interferes with the rights of others, particularly with respect to activities (such as law school) that should reflect the fundamental tenets of our legal system: respect for equality and the rejection of discrimination.

TWU has brought similar challenges to the decisions of the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. TWU’s Petition was dismissed by the Divisional Court of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, but was allowed by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Stand by for a decision from the British Columbia Supreme Court.

Karey Brooks and Elin Sigurdson of JFK Law are representing an LGBTQ Coalition (comprised of QMUNITY and the OUTlaws of UBC, UVIC and TRU) in BC proceedings.