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Business in Vancouver

Canadian law school’s legal battles likely headed to country's Supreme Court

Canadian Constitution Foundation points to University's victory over BC College of Teachers as precedent

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 1:39am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 11:01am

Trinity Western University’s (TWU) proposed law school will end up before the country’s top court, according to the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF).

Howard Anglin, CCF executive director, said everything is now pointing towards one end point.

“It is pretty clear where this is all heading,” he said. “The Supreme Court of Canada, where the court will not be able to avoid the Charter issue.”

TWU’s argument that its Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms have been infringed upon need to be addressed by Canada’s top court, said Anglin. On July 26, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal in which the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society sought to bar TWU’s law graduates from practising in the Atlantic province.

Earl Phillips, executive director of TWU’s proposed law school, commended the decision.

“Our teachers, nurses and business graduates in particular are sought after for their compassion, integrity, training and skill. I look forward to seeing the extraordinary difference that graduates of TWU’s School of Law will make." stated Phillips in a media release.

The ruling is the latest in a longstanding court battle the Langley-based private Christian university is waging with various provincial accreditation bodies concerning its proposed law school, scheduled to open in 2018. The pushback levelled at TWU stems from its community covenant which requires students, teachers and staff to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman." The covenant is further outlined as “according to the Bible, sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman, and within that marriage bond it is God’s intention that it be enjoyed as a means for marital intimacy and procreation.”

Anglin cited the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2001 judgment that ruled against the B.C. College of Teachers as a precedent. The teachers college had denied accreditation to TWU’s teaching program on the grounds that religious beliefs would impede their competence as teachers. The same reasoning applies to TWU’s law school and the practice of law, said Anglin.

“Indeed, thousands of Christians are already members of the B.C., Ontario, and Nova Scotia bars, including many graduates of TWU’s undergraduate programs. While we believe that the Supreme Court will vindicate TWU once again, the dogged persecution of the provincial bar associations shows that Canada still has a long way to go in living up to our founding promise of religious pluralism and tolerance of diversity,” said Anglin.

The Law Society of British Columbia recently filed an appeal concerning the B.C. Supreme Court’s decision handed down last December which recognizes graduates from TWU.

In April of 2014, the law society’s board of governors initially approved granting accreditation to TWU’s proposed law school. However, in October 2014, 74 per cent of B.C. lawyers voted to oppose TWU's accreditation in a law society referendum. At the end of the year, Minister of Advanced Education Amrik Virk released a statement which revoked the approval for the university’s proposed school of law.

“The current uncertainty over the status of the regulatory body approval means prospective graduates may not be able to be called to the bar, or practise law, in British Columbia. This is a significant change to the context in which I made my original decision," stated Virk.

Shortly after, TWU began the process of starting a judicial review of the law society’s decision. In December 2015, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled in favour of TWU, leading to the current appeal before the B.C. Supreme Court of Appeal.

The Law Society of British Columbia said they are reviewing the Nova Scotia Court of Appeals decision. However, they would not comment further given the case is ongoing.