Trinity Western University, et al. v. Law Society of Upper Canada
(Ont.) (Civil) (By Leave)
Law of professions - Freedom of religion (s. 2(a)) - Charter — Freedom of religion — Equality rights — Regulation of legal profession — Law societies and governing bodies — Ontario law society denied accreditation to British Columbia’s Trinity Western University (“TWU”) law school because students there must sign community covenant that does not recognize same-sex marriage — TWU sought judicial review — Law society’s refusal decision was confirmed by reviewing court and TWU’s subsequent appeal was dismissed — Whether law society’s refusal decision was reasonable.
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The respondent Law Society of Upper Canada (“LSUC”) denied accreditation to the law school of the applicant Trinity Western University (“TWU”). TWU is a private post-secondary institution in British Columbia that provides an education founded on evangelical Christian principles. TWU’s approach to community development was expressed in a Community Covenant, a code of conduct that encouraged or discouraged certain behaviour based on evangelical Christian notions of Biblical teaching and morality. The covenant prohibited sexual intimacy that violated the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman. Unmarried individuals were expected to live chaste, celibate lives. TWU did not prohibit admission to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBTQ) students, and the covenant prohibited any forms of discrimination or prejudice. However, TWU did prohibit admission to its law school if a student refused to sign the covenant. Because of TWU’s convenant, the LSUC’s Benchers voted to refuse its accreditation in Ontario. On judicial review, the court held that the LSUC was entitled, in the exercise of its statutory mandate to act in the public interest, to refuse to accredit TWU’s law school based on the discriminatory nature of the community covenant. The reviewing court found that although the decision breached the freedom of religion rights of the applicants, TWU and its representative student (“TWU et al.”), the LSUC had engaged in a reasonable and proportionate balancing of the Charter protections at issue. Therefore, the reviewing court concluded that the LSUC’s refusal decision was reasonable. A unanimous Court of Appeal dismissed TWU et al.’s subsequent appeal.
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