Trinity Western University won the right to certify as a five-year degree-granting BC teaching program, in a Supreme Court of Canada decision Thursday.
The court’s 8-1 decision ended an almost six-year battle with the BC College of Teachers…
In a media statement, TWU executive vice-president Dr. Guy Saffold said the final court decision was a critical one for democracy in Canada. “The Supreme Court has affirmed that the government cannot discriminate against people who uphold their religious convictions while demonstrating understanding and respect for the views and dignity of others,” Saffold said.
Al Irwin, “Trinity Wins Right to Full Teaching Program,” Langley Times, May 2001
The four-year teacher education degree program was launched at TWU in 1985; graduates from the program attended Simon Fraser University for their fifth and final year. In 1995 TWU applied to the British Columbia College of Teachers (BCCT) to offer the required certification year in its own right.
The BCCT, ignoring the recommendation of its own committee, rejected TWU’s application in June, 1996, citing Trinity’s community standards, which required students to refrain from extramarital sex, including homosexual behavior. The BCCT argued that students graduating from TWU's teacher education program would introduce an unwelcome bias to the public school classroom. TWU challenged the BCCT's decision by filing suit in the Supreme Court of British Columbia in May 1997. On September 12th of that year, the Court ordered that the BCCT approve TWU's teacher education program, stating that there was no evidence of intolerance amongst TWU-trained teachers. The BCCT appealed the decision, but on December 30th, 1998, BC’s Court of Appeal upheld the earlier decision.
The BCCT appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada which agreed on December 9th, 1999, to hear the case. In November of 2000, both sides presented their arguments before the Court, and on May 17th, 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Trinity Western University.
Legal Challenge Collection. [TWU Archives: Coll. 5 – collection-level description]
Challenge Response newsletter, March 1997.
[TWU Archives: Coll. 5 B 6 File 4]
TWU's legal team - Kevin Boonstra, Kevin Sawatsky, and Robert Kuhn - at the Chilliwack Court House, May 9, 1997.
[TWU Archives: 2004-10-0057]
At the Supreme Court
Executive Vice President and Challenge spokesperson Guy Saffold with Harro Van Brummelen, Dean and education professor, on the steps of the Supreme Court of Canada, ca. 2000.
[TWU Archives: 2006-01-0108]
Returning students report on the Supreme Court Ruling in September, 2001.
“8-1 Victory for TWU,” Mars’ Hill, September 18, 2001, p. 1, vol. 6 no. 1 [TWU Archives: Coll. 4 B 11 File 3]
In His Own Words ...
Lawyer and business professor Kevin Sawatsky reflects on the court case five months later, October 12, 2001.
[TWU Archives: Audio Visual Collection. Aud 273; view transcript of this 2001 interview with Kevin Sawatsky]
Student interviewer: Okay. What was the most emotional point for the legal team?
Kevin Sawatzky: With the Supreme Court of Canada we were just huddled around the telephone, because we had our agent in Ottawa finding the decision and [we] had agreed that he would call us right away; and so, you know, we met very early in the morning, and got the decision, and it was actually a very interesting emotion. You might expect that we would be dancing on the tables, but it really wasn’t- we were very quiet, when we got the decision, and I think it was just a- it was a relief, it was a sense of thankfulness, that we had come through the case and had been successful, and God had answered our prayers in some remarkable ways, and that was, that was a very unique moment.
Student interviewer: What do you think the effects of the ruling on this case will be in twenty or fifty years?
Kevin Sawatzky: Well, I think- it obviously means that Trinity is going to start its program. We’ll- I understand- be starting that in September of next year. And I would hope that twenty years from now that program is still functioning and is a very exciting program. I do think that much more generally, this case helped to define religious freedom in Canada. I won’t say that it, it has fully defined religious freedom, but there haven’t been a lot of cases that have discussed really what religious freedom means in this country, and this case did, and it did talk about the need in our country to have religious freedom- that it’s a fundamental right in our society. And I would hope that that precedent is going to be with us for a long time.