BCCLA to debate Trinity Western law school issue at UBC Faculty of Law

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Rights watchdog to join panel debate at UBC Faculty of Law sponsored by OUTLaws LGBTQ law student group – BCCLA filed submission to Law Society on application to accredit new law school

Vancouver – The BC Civil Liberties Association will join a debate today at UBC’s Faculty of Law on whether or not Trinity Western University (TWU) should be accredited as a law school. – The BCCLA’s past president, lawyer Rob Holmes, Q.C., will represent the Association in the discussion with Professors Emma Cunliffe and Margot Young, and lawyer Geoffrey Trotter. The aim of the event is to have a dialogue on the issues raised by TWU’s application to have a law school, including how to balance different constitutionally-protected rights and freedoms like the freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and equality rights.

The BCCLA will discuss its recent submission last week to the Law Society of British Columbia on TWU’s application to accredit their proposed law school, filed last week. The BCCLA will argue that to deny the application based on the university’s Community Covenant would infringe the Charter-protected freedoms of association, belief and expression and of members of the faith-based private university.

The Law Society of British Columbia invited submissions from the public as it considers whether or not to accredit the proposed law school at Trinity Western University so that its graduates may be admitted to the legal profession.

“The BCCLA strongly believes in the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people. We have fought for that equality for decades and we will continue to do so,” said Lindsay Lyster, president of the BCCLA. “At the same time, we defend the right of people of faith to come together in their own private institutions of learning, and to be able to set rules, based on their faith, for membership in their own community. That is part of their fundamental freedom of association and freedom of religion. We can’t say that Trinity Western – which already issues degrees in many different disciplines – should be denied the ability to grant a law degree just because their faith-based rules are different than those we would choose for ourselves.”

The BCCLA has long fought against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, including in multiple court cases. This includes our acting as co-plaintiffs in Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v. Canada to protect the rights of the LGBT community from discrimination by Canada Customs agents targeting shipments to bookstores catering to the community, and intervening in Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36 to support the principle of the public school system remaining secular and to ensure that respectful education of students concerning same-sex relationships was achieved. It is the BCCLA’s deeply held conviction that queer rights are human rights.

Lyster added: “The freedom to join together with those we want join with, on the terms we choose, is a fundamental freedom. It’s a freedom that minority and marginalized groups rely on to seek equality, and to challenge unjust laws and practices. Gays and lesbians fought violations of their freedom of association for decades, even in their most intimate relationships. Fighting police raids on gay bars, fighting criminalization of same sex sexual behaviour, and fighting for marriage equality all depended on the freedom of lesbian, gay and queer people to freely associate with whom they choose, in the way they choose, and in the institutions that they choose. That freedom is essential to the life of any community and to the fight for equality itself. Our commitment to freedom and to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms means that we can’t deny that same freedom of association to members of a religious faith who wish to organize themselves in the way that members of Trinity Western do. We can’t pick and choose to defend the rights only of those people that we agree with. If we want freedom for ourselves, we have to uphold it for everybody.”

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled, in a 2001 decision involving Trinity Western’s ability to train teachers, that it would be a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to deny TWU the ability to have an accredited faculty of education. The BCCLA takes the position that the same legal reasoning will apply to the question of whether TWU should have an accredited faculty of law.

Read the BCCLA’s submission to the Law Society of BC >>