Vancouver - The Supreme Court of Canada will likely determine the future of Trinity Western University’s plan for a faith-based law school, say the university’s president and legal experts.
Members of the Law Society of B.C. this week voted against the school, rebuking an earlier decision by the society’s board and creating yet another obstacle for a program critics have blasted as discriminatory. The vote, however, was non-binding and the society’s board now has 12 months to revisit the issue. If it doesn’t take action, its members could pursue a binding referendum.
This week’s vote, coupled with the fact lawsuits involving the proposed law school have been filed in three provinces, has created uncertainty on what comes next. But some of the interested parties say the issue appears destined for the country’s highest court, one way or another.
“I think the likelihood is it will go [to the Supreme Court of Canada] because the issue is very important to our society and its acceptance of religious freedom,” Bob Kuhn, Trinity Western’s president, said in an interview Wednesday.
The proposed school – which would open in September, 2016 – has drawn criticism due to the university’s community covenant that prohibits “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” Critics have said the covenant discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Law Society of B.C.’s board, in April, voted in favour of the school.
Law societies in Nova Scotia and Ontario later voted against accrediting Trinity Western graduates. The university has filed lawsuits in both instances.
A separate lawsuit has been filed against the B.C. government, over the Advanced Education Minister’s approval of the law school.
Mr. Kuhn said the university fully expects the Law Society of B.C. board to abide by its earlier decision. He said the university would consider legal action if the board reversed course.
Jan Lindsay, the B.C. society’s president, in an e-mail Wednesday said the board will give this week’s member vote serious and thoughtful consideration.
However, Ms. Lindsay said she believes the matter will ultimately be decided by the country’s top court.
“Ultimately, we fully expect that the issues raised from the matter regarding TWU will be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada,” she wrote.
Lindsay Lyster, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, agreed. But exactly how the matter reaches the Supreme Court, she said, is anyone’s guess, given the number of lawsuits that have already been filed and others that might be.
“I think it’s very up in the air. I think we’ve got an awful lot of moving pieces on this chess board,” she said in an interview.
This would not be the first time a case involving Trinity Western reached the top court. In 1995, the B.C. College of Teachers refused accreditation to the university over the same covenant. The case made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where the ruling went in the university’s favour.
“Absent concrete evidence that training teachers at TWU fosters discrimination in the public schools of B.C., the freedom of individuals to adhere to certain religious beliefs while at TWU should be respected,” the court wrote in a 2001 judgment.
Mr. Kuhn has said, given that victory, he’s been surprised by the backlash over the proposed law school.
But Michael Mulligan, a lawyer who collected signatures calling for this week’s meeting at which votes were cast, said Tuesday that much has changed since that ruling.
“This is not the same as the teachers’ case. Much has happened in the years since that judgment – including wider recognition of what is necessary to progress against wrongful discrimination. Against the progressive flow is this request for us to take a step back and approve a discriminatory law school,” he said.