Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University, et al.
(British Columbia) (Civil) (By Leave)
Law of professions - Freedom of religion (s. 2(a)).
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Charter — Freedom of religion — Equality rights — Regulation of legal profession — Law societies and governing bodies — British Columbia law society denied accreditation to Trinity Western University (“TWU”) law school because students must sign community covenant that does not recognize same-sex marriage — TWU sought judicial review — Law society’s refusal decision was set aside by reviewing court and law society’s appeal was dismissed — Whether law society’s refusal decision was reasonable.
The applicant Law Society of British Columbia (“LSBC”) denied accreditation to the law school of the respondent 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. In 2014, the LSBC held a binding referendum amongst its members on the issue of whether TWU’s law school should be approved as a recognized law faculty for the purpose of admission of graduates to the bar. Based on the referendum outcome, the LSBC refused recognition. The respondents, TWU and its representative student (“TWU et al.”), sought judicial review. The reviewing court found that the LSBC’s refusal to accredit TWU on the basis of its admissions policy was directly related to the LSBC’s statutory mandate. It also held that the LSBC correctly found that it had discretion to disapprove the academic qualifications of a law faculty, so long as it followed the appropriate procedures and employed the correct analytical framework. However, the Benchers’ delegation of the issue to members, and consequent acceptance of the outcome of the membership referendum, constituted an impermissible delegation and fettering of their discretion, as it ignored their obligation to consider and apply the proportionate balancing of the competing Charter rights at issue related to same-sex marriage and religious freedoms. Therefore, the reviewing court set aside the LSBC’s refusal decision. The LSBC appealed, but unsuccessfully.
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