Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) is appearing before the British Columbia Court of Appeal this week in the matter of Trinity Western University v. Law Society of British Columbia. CLF Executive Director Derek Ross will present CLF's argument in support of the fundamental freedoms of law students and lawyers, including freedom of religion, association, expression, and equality.
The case arises from a dispute over Trinity Western University’s proposed law school, which would be the first private and faith-based law school in Canada. TWU’s law school was initially approved by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, the BC Minister of Advanced Education, and the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC). However, the LSBC’s initial decision was reversed in October 2014 following a referendum of its members. Opposition to the law school stems from TWU’s long-standing Community Covenant which, among other things, calls on students to refrain from sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman.
TWU brought a court application challenging the LSBC’s decision, and the BC Supreme Court ruled in TWU’s favour. The court found that the LSBC “fettered its discretion”, thus violating procedural fairness, by allowing itself to be bound by a popular vote of LSBC members against approving TWU, rather than having the LSBC Benchers make that decision independently after due consideration of the relevant legal issues in play. CLF was also an intervener in that matter (see CLF’s written submissions here).
In CLF’s forthcoming arguments before the Court of Appeal, Mr. Ross will urge the court to consider the broader Charter implications that are at play in this case. Specifically, Mr. Ross will argue that it is contrary to the Charter, and the public interest, for a law society to reject a law student based on their identification with, and lawful expression of, ethical and/or religious beliefs. Furthermore, by characterizing TWU’s admissions policy as discriminatory and making this the basis for not approving its law school, the LSBC has called into question the extent to which current and future lawyers will be allowed to fully participate in their profession while remaining true to their religious identity.
The appeal will be held in Courtroom 60 of the Court of Appeal at 800 Hornby Street in Vancouver fromWednesday, June 1 through to Friday, June 3. CLF’s arguments are expected to be heard on Fridayafternoon. The proceedings are open to members of the public.
Next week, CLF will be before the Ontario Court of Appeal in companion litigation in that province. CLF, represented by Derek Ross, John Sikkema, and Peter Jervis, has filed written submissions and is expected to present its oral argument on Tuesday, June 8. CLF previously appeared before the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in its hearing of the TWU case from April 6-8, represented by Deina Warren and Derek Ross (reported on here).