Law Society of British Columbia v Trinity Western University

Trinity Western University (TWU) is an Evangelical Christian university in the Fraser Valley. Under its mandatory Community Covenant Agreement, students were prohibited from sex outside of a heterosexual marriage. When TWU applied for approval for its law school from provincial law societies, the societies in BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia rejected the proposal on the basis of its discriminatory covenant.

TWU sought judicial review in each province. The school won at the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal in BC and Nova Scotia, and lost at both levels in Ontario. The BCHA, together with the Canadian Secular Alliance, intervened at the BC Court of Appeal.

The BC and Ontario rulings were appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2017.

The BCHA applied for leave to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada. After only nine organizations, none of whom represented the LGBTQ2S+ community, were granted leave to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada, the order was reversed and every application to intervene was granted. The BCHA presented its arguments at the Court in December 2019.

In a split decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 7-2 in favour of the Law Society of BC in 2018. The five-justice majority, writing as one, found that the Law Society's decision to reject the proposed law school was reasonable to maintain equal access to and diversity in the legal profession. Accepting the school risked "significant harm to LGBTQ people" and could undermine "public confidence in the administration of justice."

While the majority recognized an impact on the religious freedoms of the "TWU community", the mandatory nature of the Covenant was found to have significant impacts on others.

The LSBC’s decision prevents the risk of significant harm to LGBTQ people who feel they have no choice but to attend TWU’s proposed law school. These individuals would have to deny who they are for three years to receive a legal education. Being required by someone else’s religious beliefs to behave contrary to one’s sexual identity is degrading and disrespectful.

In his concurrence, Justice Rowe argued that there was no infringement of religious freedom in the case as religious freedom is an individual right. He quotes the factum of the Canadian Secular Alliance, who wrote “a right designed to shield individuals from religious coercion cannot be used as a sword to coerce [conformity to] religious practice.”

Following the decision, TWU made its covenant voluntary.

At the BC Court of Appeal, the BCHA and Canadian Secular Alliance were represented by Tim Dickson and Catherine George.

At the Supreme Court of Canada, the BCHA was represented by Wes McMillan and Kaitlyn Meyer.

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