Saturday, April 26, 2014

Trinity Western University: Discrimination of Christian Groups?

On April 11, 2014 the Law Society of British Columbia granted graduates from Trinity Western University’s Law School the right to practice law in the province of British Columbia.
Trinity Western University is a private university in Langley, BC which is based on Evangelical Protestant values.
Some individuals and groups (including a group of BC lawyers) disagreed with the Society’s decision because of the covenant TWU students have to sign when they study at the school. The covenant includes abstaining from premarital sex, homosexual behaviour, abortion (as well as drunkenness, cheating and stealing). Students are asked to be responsible citizens both locally and globally who respect authorities, submit to the laws of the country and contribute to the welfare of society.
TWU acknowledges that Canadian Human Rights Laws and the Charter and Section 15 of the Charter protect against and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and that “the courses that will be offered at the TWU School of Law will ensure that students understand the full scope of these protections in the public and private spheres of Canadian life.”

In the preamble and section 3.1 of the Civil Marriage Act of Canada there is also protection against discrimination of those whose religious beliefs do not allow for their participation to perform marriages which are not in accordance with those same religious beliefs:

WHEREAS nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs and the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs;
WHEREAS it is not against the public interest to hold and publicly express diverse views on marriage;

3.1 For greater certainty, no person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit, or be subject to any obligation or sanction, under any law of the Parliament of Canada solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of marriage between persons of the same sex, of the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the expression of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others based on that guaranteed freedom.

This could be understood to include allowing those religious groups to be able to have expectations of students, faculty and employees of their institutions to uphold these beliefs.

On the Law Society of BC webpage (http://www.lawsociety.bc.ca/page.cfm?cid=3891&t=Bencher-meeting-consideration-of-TWU,-April-11,-2014) letters showing support and opposition of TWU can be read under ‘public submissions’. One significant supporting letter is from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association which does not give support easily or without due thought. They state that in many cases they “,,, have been involved with or spoken out about, we have maintained a consistent them of protecting the rights and freedoms of Canadians and the pluralistic and diverse nature of Canada”. (from an e-mail from BCCLA to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, no date given, on the Law Society of British Columbia website)

Referring to deans of law schools who spoke out saying that TWU should not be accredited they go on to say, “ With regard to our first concern, we note that Canada is a country founded upon diversity and tolerance. It is thus startling for deans of publicly-funded university law schools to use their position to attempt to thwart the entry of another voice into academia, particularly where that voice is a religious one. We not that the Human Rights Code of British Columbia expressly provides for religious-based groups, among others, to be exempt from certain of its provision when they grant preferences to members of those groups. Obviously, in order for such groups to survive they must be able to prescribe the conditions of membership of their group and set out their fundamental beliefs.” (from an e-mail from BCCLA to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, no date given, on the Law Society of British Columbia website)

Now a lawyer in Victoria, BC has collected signatures of lawyers in BC who want to re-open the case and have the Law Society of BC change its decision. I call upon people of good will and those who are in favour of just laws to write in to thank the Law Society for their thoughtful and reasonable ruling in favour of TWU’s Law Students and say that you hope they will not change that decision. It is a matter of importance that discrimination against Christian values upon which Canada was founded is discouraged.
The address is:
Mr. Timothy E. McGee, QC, Chief Executive Office and Executive Director
The Law Society of British Columbia
845 Cambie Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 4Z9

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