Trinity Western University in an undated photo. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled that the province's law association will be required to accredit the university's law school graduates. Photo/Courtesy of Trinity Western University via Facebook

Nova Scotia must accredit Trinity Western University law school graduates, court rules

By 
  • July 26, 2016

OTTAWA – The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society will be required to accredit Trinity Western University’s law school graduates.

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal held it is outside the society’s jurisdiction to try to regulate TWU’s internal policies, pointing out the evangelical Christian university is a private institution not governed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Nova Scotia Human Rights Code. The Court ruled July 26 the legislation establishing the society did not empower it to engage in determining Charter or human rights code compliance of parties outside of Nova Scotia.

The society said it would refuse to accredit graduates from Trinity Western’s proposed law school on the basis the school discriminated against the homosexual community through its community covenant, which, among other requirements, asks faculty and students to abstain from sexual activity outside of traditional marriage.

The decision points out the only reason TWU’s proposed law school graduates would be denied society membership is due to the community covenant. In the decision, Justice J.A. Fichaud pointed out the society had no objections to the quality of the education a law graduate would receive, only the existence of the covenant.

“The community covenant is a core part of defining the TWU community as distinctly Christian,” said Amy Robertson, a spokesperson for the university in a statement, in welcoming the court’s decision. “We are not making a statement about LGBTQ people; we are making a statement about traditional Christian marriage, which is sacred to us.

“The same covenant calls for all members of the TWU community to respect the dignity of others regardless of their background. Loving one another without exception is one of the most important principles of the Christian faith.”

Robertson pointed out LGBTQ students can and do attend the university and find it “a safe, welcoming place.”

The Court upheld Justice Jamie Campbell’s Superior Court decision of January 2015 that said, “Allowing the (society’s) decision to stand would have a chilling effect on the liberty of conscience and freedom of religion.”

“We’re happy with the decision,” said constitutional lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos, who represented the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in its intervention. “We did hope, however, the Court would address the religious freedom issues or questions arising out of the Barristers’ Society’s decision.

“The Court of the Appeal was able to resolve the appeal without going that far, and dealt solely with the jurisdictional questions,” he said.

The victory in Nova Scotia follows a defeat in Ontario courts earlier this summer when the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s ruling on the Law Society of Upper Canada’s decision to not accredit TWU law school graduates. TWU’s community covenant was also the basis for the law society’s refusal.

“The justices explained they are ruling differently than Ontario’s Court of Appeal, which ruled against TWU in June,” Polizogopoulos said. “Both decisions are related to the provincial legislation that creates the bar societies. In Ontario, the justices ruled the legislature gave the law society wider authority to deal with law schools than Nova Scotia did.”

TWU awaits one more appeal court decision from British Columbia. All other law societies in Canada have accredited the proposed law school.

TWU underwent a similar court battle over the accreditation of its teachers’ college that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. In that case, Canada’s highest court ruled against the B.C. College of Teachers which had denied accreditation to the school’s graduates. The Supreme Court ruled there was no basis to determine TWU teachers’ school graduates would be discriminatory in the classroom.

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