Canadian gvmt intervenes on behalf of Christian law school in religious freedom battle
Canadian Attorney General Peter MacKay is backing Trinity Western University as it battles for the right to launch a Christian law school.
By Steve Weatherbe
TORONTO, May 20, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Attorney General of Canada has intervened on Trinity Western University’s behalf in its legal dispute with the Law Society of Upper Canada over TWU’s proposed law school.
At the heart of the issue is TWU’s controversial community covenant, requiring all students and staff to live according to Christian moral teachings, including abstaining from sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage.
The federal AG agrees with the Law Society of Upper Canada’s motives but argues that in its efforts to prevent future discrimination against homosexuals it is itself discriminating now against a whole class of people—evangelical Christians who would like to attend TWU’s law school and practice law in Ontario.
“While discrimination on prohibited grounds in the practice of law in Ontario should not be tolerated,” states the attorney general’s May 4 brief to Ontario’s Division Court of Justice, “the LSUC went too far and issued a disproportionately broad remedy to not accredit the TWU Law School that was unnecessary in the circumstances.”
The brief continues, “Instances of discrimination on a prohibited ground can be effectively dealt with by the LSUC on an individual basis without the need to infringe an entire group’s freedom of religion.”
The law society joined its peers in Nova Scotia and British Columbia in banning graduates from TWU law school, should it ever open and graduate students, and should they apply for admission to the bar in these provinces.
A Nova Scotia judge has already thrown out the decision by the Nova Scotia law society on grounds that would apply in Ontario, when the LSUC’s decision is subject to judicial review June 1 to 4, and in British Columbia when the case is tried there beginning August 24.
Among Mr. Justice Jamie Campbell’s reasons for siding with TWU: as a private school it is free under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to make discriminatory rules for its members, and its students are entitled to protection from discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs from government bodies. But the law societies are government-chartered professional regulators and as such are required by the Charter to avoid discrimination based on religious practice or belief.
Several lawyers who are intervening on the Law Society’s behalf—they would say on behalf of Ontario’s homosexual minority—told the Toronto Star it was unusual for the federal government to intervene in a provincial judicial review. “I’ve never seen them intervene at this level before in this type of case,” said Paul Jonathan Saguil of Out on Bay Street, a group linking homosexual law students and lawyers. “Regulation of law schools and the legal profession is under provincial jurisdiction, so it’s kind of perplexing that the federal government would wade in on this issue.”
But a spokesman for the attorney general helpfully provided Saguil a lesson in the law: at issue is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is a part of the federal constitution.
John Carpay, head of the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom and an intervenor on TWU’s behalf in the Ontario judicial review, told LifeSiteNews, “It is not unusual” for Ottawa to intervene in a provincial court or vice versa.
The JCCF’s focus in the case is on the freedom of association. “What is at stake for us is the freedom of tens of thousands of voluntary associations–ethnic, religious, sports, professional—to set their own rules for membership.”
But could not the Upper Canada Law Society not argue it was doing just that, setting the admission requirements for its own members? Responded Carpay: “If you are saying that the Law Society of Upper Canada should ban its members from having any kind of belief about the wrongness of homosexuality or same-sex marriage, then it should be examining its existing members and kicking out those that hold these beliefs. It is not doing that because it knows there is nothing wrong with holding those beliefs.”
Carpay’s point, acknowledged by Judge Campbell in Nova Scotia and by the Supreme Court of Canada in its decision in a very similar case involving TWU teacher’s college in 2001, is that the Christian belief that homosexuality is wrong is not a discriminatory act. The Charter prohibits actions—like the banning of TWU students for their beliefs.