OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – In a landmark ruling the Supreme Court of Canada has decided law societies in Ontario and British Columbia are entitled to deny accreditation to the proposed law school at Trinity Western University on an equal access argument.
The country’s top court ruled that limits on religious rights are reasonable in order to protect the rights of LGBTQ2 Canadians.
The much-watched case pitted two significant societal values — freedom of religion and promotion of equality — against one another.
LGBTQ2 groups are applauding the ruling, but say there is still a lot of work to do to achieve equality.
Associate law professor Emma Cunliffe at UBC believes the high court ruling is a recognition that access to justice is improved when lawyers come from as many walks of life as possible, and represent as many kinds of people as possible.
“The decision today represents an attempt on the part of the Supreme Court of Canada to promote diversity within the legal profession.”
Cunliffe says the Supreme Court found that law societies have a legitimate interest in promoting equality in the legal profession.
Meantime, others are not as pleased with the decision.
“It does look like religious freedom can be restricted by equality rights,” Janet Epp Buckingham, a professor at Trinity Western, said following the ruling.
Students were asked to sign a covenant which requires them to abstain from sex outside a heterosexual marriage. The court found that to be discriminatory.
So what’s next for Trinity Western’s law school? TWU Executive Director Earl Phillips says it will take time to go through the 200 page decision.
He says the core of the school’s community covenant is about the dignity and worth of every human being — and that will not change. However, he adds it will be looked at.
“We’ve reviewed the community covenant in the past, we will review it again in the future. And with this decision, it’s something we’re going to be reflecting on.”
Phillips believes the Supreme Court’s decision actually signals a loss of support for diversity.
“Diversity will only be our strength if we actually do allow for difference. Diversity has to allow for difference,” he explains.
He adds he’s disappointed the Court doesn’t see room for a small Christian university that holds traditional values to open a law school.