Another big religious freedom victory for Canadian law school

British Columbia Supreme Court restores accreditation to Trinity Western University’s proposed school of law
Friday, December 11, 2015

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The British Columbia Supreme Court on Thursday reversed the Law Society of British Columbia’s decision to deny accreditation to Trinity Western University’s proposed law school. LSBC originally voted to accept graduates of the school but changed its decision in October 2014 because of the university’s biblical beliefs on appropriate sexual behavior.

TWU went to court in August 2015 to challenge the denial. Now the province’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Law Society’s first decision, which approved the academic qualifications of TWU graduates, should be restored. In January, a Nova Scotia court similarly upheld the school’s professional accreditation.

“Canadians should be free to live and work according to their sincerely held beliefs and convictions. Faith-based educational institutions are welcome in a diverse society and should be free to operate according to the faith they teach and espouse,” said Gerald Chipeur, Q.C., of the Canadian firm Miller Thompson, LLP, which acted for the government of Canada, intervening in support of TWU’s law school.

“As the court noted, the Law Society had an obligation to fully consider the law school’s religious freedom protections under the Canadian Charter, but it did not,” said Chipeur, who is one of more than 3,000 private attorneys allied with ADF International.

“This case may well represent the beginning of the end of viewpoint based-discrimination against Christians and Christian institutions in Canada. It is a very positive step in the right direction,” added ADF International Executive Director Benjamin Bull. “No one – including Christians – can be banned from their profession because they hold biblically based views, and no Christian institution of higher education can be sanctioned because it reflects essential tenets of the Christian religion.”

In the decision in Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of British Columbia, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson wrote, “Although the LSBC contends that the Decision does not infringe TWU’s right to freedom of religion, the evidence in this case and the relevant precedents conclusively establish that the Decision does infringe the petitioners’ Charter right to freedom of religion.”

Hinkson added that he found “no basis upon which a conclusion could be drawn on any evidence...that the LSBC’s membership considered, let alone balanced, the petitioners’ Charter rights…. I find that the Benchers improperly fettered their discretion and acted outside their authority in delegating to the LSBC’s members the question of whether TWU’s proposed faculty of law should be approved for the purposes of the admissions program…. I find that the Decision was made without proper consideration and balancing of the Charter rights at issue, and therefore cannot stand.”

The court affirmed that the approval of a law school graduate must be based on the law and evidence, not on personal opinions and feelings. Consistent with this line of argument, attorneys allied with ADF International have fought for the institution’s accreditation in several Canadian provinces.

Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and the Yukon have already agreed to recognize TWU’s law graduates. The Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society has appealed the court decision in that province, and TWU has appealed an adverse court decision in Ontario.

Founded in 1962, TWU operates professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. The law school will focus on charity, small-business, and entrepreneurial law.
  • Pronunciation guide: Chipeur (CHIP’-yur)

ADF International is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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