Trinity Western University President Bob Kuhn speaks to media at Supreme Court (CNW Group/Trinity Western University)

Trinity Western University ‘optimistic’ after court hearing

Supreme Court considers accreditation of proposed law school

Trinity Western University (TWU) said it was “optimistic Canada’s highest court will arrive at a decision that supports the freedom of all faith groups and other minorities in Canada” following two days of legal arguments at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa concerning a proposed faith-based law school at the Langley campus.

The case involved two appeals concerning accreditation of the TWU law school, one involving a decision of the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) and the other a decision of the Law Society of Ontario (LSO).

At issue is the university community covenant that requires students and staff to abstain from non-heterosexual relationships, something critics say violates the Canadian charter of rights.

Both the B.C. and Ontario bodies refused to recognize the proposed law school.

In BC, the decision was overturned by the lower courts, while in Ontario, the LSO’s refusal to accredit was upheld.

READ MORE: TWU ‘disappointed’ with provincial decision to nix Christian law school

The last time the university went to court over the covenant, it won a 2001 case over its teacher training program when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled there was no evidence to suggest that the religious views of TWU graduates would lessen their competence to practice their profession in Canada’s pluralistic society.”

During the two days of arguments that ended on Friday, the high court heard multiple submissions from people on both sides of the law school issue.

Among the detractors were the BC Humanist Association, an atheist group which argued that TWU cannot claim its religious freedom has been infringed as organizations do not have religious rights in Canada, and West Coast LEAF, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, which defended the decision to deny accreditation to TWU’s proposed law school on the basis that it would engage in discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, and sexual orientation.

“As the gatekeeper to the legal profession and the judiciary, and as a public entity whose decisions must comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, law societies cannot condone a law school that will through its admissions practices widen the gap between historically disadvantaged groups and the rest of society,” said a LEAF statement issued before the hearing began.

In his opening statement, Trinity Western University (TWU) Counsel Kevin Boonstra framed the matter as a freedom of religion issue.

“The Charter protects the right to establish communities of faith like TWU,” Boonstra said.

“In order for any religious community to exist and thrive, it has to be able to define itself. In the evangelical context, this includes defining religiously appropriate conduct while individuals are part of the community.”

Outside court, TWU president Bob Kuhn said the case was about more than just a law school.

“It is about freedom for all faith communities and other minorities in Canada,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn led the legal team that won the 2001 Supreme Court case concerning the TWU covenant and the BC College of Teachers refusal to recognize their teacher training program.

“As the BC Court of Appeal stated when it decided in favour of the law school, ‘a society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society’,” Kuhn said.

READ MORE: Bob Kuhn named president of Trinity Western University

A statement issued by TWU following the hearing said the university “welcomes any student who is prepared to live and learn according to the values and principles of its community – regardless of race, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, or place of origin” and said the covenant was “not so different from a code of ethics or a code of conduct, which most universities have.”

The covenant, TWU said, calls on all who attend and work at TWU to live by “virtues such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, compassion, humility, forgiveness, peacemaking, mercy and justice;” it also defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The court’s decision is expected within the next several months.

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