Trinity Western University takes legal action to defend religious freedom

Freedom of religion and conscience are important and protected Canadian values. In order to respond to threats against these freedoms, Trinity Western University announced today that it would go to court in British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.

The Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the BC Ministry of Advanced Education have approved TWU’s School of Law. The Law Societies of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and other provinces have decided to accept TWU’s graduates. Despite these approvals, on April 24 the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) voted 28 to 21 to ban TWU School of Law graduates from articling or practicing in the province of Ontario. Although it has been universally recognized that TWU designed an excellent law school program, the LSUC voted to ban graduates primarily because of the TWU community’s religious views on marriage.

The LSUC’s decision to reject otherwise highly qualified graduates sends a message that in Ontario you cannot hold religious values and fully participate in society. The national law firm of Bennett Jones has been retained to commence a judicial review of the decision of the LSUC. Legal proceedings will commence in the next month.

On April 25, the Nova Scotia Barristers Society (NSBS) also voted 10 to 9 not to approve the TWU School of Law unless TWU altered its religious beliefs and practices. Like Ontario, this decision effectively concludes that one must change or hide their religious identity in order to participate in society. The Nova Scotia law firm of Boyne Clark has been retained to challenge the decision of the NSBS.

“We feel the provincial law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia have made decisions that are legally incorrect and, unfortunately, TWU is now being forced to re-litigate an issue that was decided in its favour by an 8 to 1 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001,” said TWU President Bob Kuhn. “The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in the country, comprised of the best legal minds, and their decisions should be respected. In law, their decisions must be respected.”

Trinity Western would much prefer to focus resources on its top-ranked professional programs, education, and research. However, TWU is of the view that the decisions of the LSUC and NSBS set a dangerous precedent in Canada and must be challenged in the courts. “The decisions in Ontario and Nova Scotia impact all people of faith across Canada. Their conclusions must be challenged,” said Kuhn.

In addition to the challenges in Ontario and Nova Scotia, on April 14 a Petitioner represented by Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby commenced a lawsuit against the BC Minister of Advanced Education to challenge the Province’s December 2013 approval. TWU will apply to be added as a Respondent to this litigation so that it has opportunity to present arguments to the BC court.

Notwithstanding the lawsuits in BC, Ontario, and Nova Scotia, Trinity Western has all the necessary approvals and will continue with its plans to launch Canada’s first law school at a faith-based university in September 2016. By developing legal studies within a framework of servant leadership, the TWU Law program will train lawyers with a focus on community service. The School of Law will help meet the growing need for practical and affordable legal services in Canada. Students will be encouraged to see the profession of law as a high calling of service, and to volunteer with local, national, and global NGOs that serve under-developed nations and the vulnerable.

Founded in 1962, TWU has been a part of higher education in British Columbia for over 52 years. TWU has six professional schools, including business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies and arts, media and culture. The School of Law will be its seventh.

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