CALGARY, AB Jun 22, 2015/ Troy Media/ – If the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) had its way, freedom in Canada would be enjoyed only by people who agree with government-approved beliefs and behaviours as dictated by majority vote. The LSBC makes this case in its legal brief, filed in response to a court action brought by Trinity Western University (TWU) in which this private, Evangelical Christian university asserts its Charter freedoms of expression, religion and association.
TWU receives no government funding. Despite very high tuition fees, TWU is a top-ranked university by students who made the costly choice to study there. TWU welcomes atheists and LGTBQ+ students along with members of all faiths who, as part of choosing TWU, choose to abide by TWU’s Community Covenant while studying at TWU.
Pick and choose who is eligible for Charter rights
The Federation of Law Societies of Canada has approved TWU’s law program as meeting academic and professional standards. The LSBC admits there is nothing wrong with TWU’s law program, but claims that the Community Covenant discriminates against LGBTQ+ students, as well as unmarried couples, non-believers, and women. The Community Covenant prohibits numerous legal activities such as vulgar or obscene language, drunkenness, viewing pornography, and gossip. In fact, TWU’s expectations “discriminate” against the majority of Canadians, for a myriad of reasons, all of which boil down to an unwillingness to practice an Evangelical Christian lifestyle.
No one is required to study at TWU, so there is no coercion or compulsion. TWU is simply an option for students who want to live in a Christian community while pursuing their studies. Students can get the professional degrees TWU offers from many other universities – at less cost.
In its filed court document, the LSBC argues that TWU is not an institution where “all can feel comfortable.” True, but most Canadians would not “feel comfortable” supporting or joining every organization. That is normal and healthy in a country where citizens can join – or not join – literally tens of thousands of different ethnic, political, social, charitable, educational, religious, cultural and recreational groups. If every voluntary association has to change its beliefs and rules to make everyone feel comfortable joining it, Canadians would not be free to create and join the groups of their own choosing. A free society like Canada’s does not require voluntary associations like Out for Kicks (Vancouver’s gay soccer league), or Trinity Western University, to change its own rules, beliefs, and practices in order to please everyone.
The LSBC admits that a graduate of TWU would be competent to practice law, and would not mistreat a client based on sexual orientation or other personal characteristics. Yet the LSBC demands that TWU, in order to confer law degrees, must create an “open, accepting and inclusive education environment in which all can feel comfortable.” Students and staff at TWU would tell you they already have that education environment. But the LSBC insists that “open, accepting and inclusive” means requiring TWU to reject its own beliefs, and to embrace the idea that sex outside of traditional marriage is a good thing.
Charter rights dispute a matter of coercion
The Charter protects Canada’s free society by upholding the rights of individuals and groups to adhere to minority religious beliefs, express unpopular opinions, and form private associations of their own choosing. In a free society, government does not require lawyers, nurses, or teachers to agree with majority opinion in order to practice their profession. The LSBC would ditch Charter freedoms in favour of a new right to “feel comfortable”. The LSBC actually argues that TWU – an organization no person is required to join or fund – somehow violates the rights of people who disagree with TWU’s code of conduct. As a government body, it is the LSBC (not TWU) which is required to uphold and respect freedom of expression, religion, and association. The Charter also requires LSBC to refrain from discriminating against potential lawyers on the basis of religion.
Citing “the public interest in the administration of justice”, the LSBC claims that the personal views and preferences of an “overwhelming majority” of lawyers must be imposed on a private Christian school. This is majority coercion directed against a minority. The LSBC itself violates the rule of law and the Charter, and attacks the foundations of Canadian freedom.
Calgary lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (http://www.jccf.ca/), which is an intervenor in Trinity Western University v. Law Society of BC.