Legal battles proliferate as Trinity Western goes to court

The legal battles are proliferating after Trinity Western University announced a court challenge in three provinces.

In a news release, the university said it would be going to court in British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.

“We feel the provincial law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia have made decisions that are legally incorrect and, unfortunately, TWU is now being forced to re-litigate an issue that was decided in its favour by an 8 to 1 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001,” said Trinity Western president Bob Kuhn.

The school went on to suggest that the Nova Scotia Barristers Society and Law Society of Upper Canada decisions against accrediting Trinity Western’s planned law school set a “dangerous precedent.”

“The decisions in Ontario and Nova Scotia impact all people of faith across Canada,” said Kuhn.

While the law school has received approval from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada several other law societies, including the one in British Columbia, Trinity Western is also going to court to apply as a respondent in a B.C. action launched by lawyer Clayton Ruby against the B.C. minister of advanced education’s decision in favour of the law faculty.

The controversy, of course, relates to gay and lesbian rights at the Christian-focused law school set to open in 2016. The school’s community covenant agreement includes a statement about abstaining from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” Despite the unfavourable decisions in Ontario and Nova Scotia, Trinity Western said in its news release it would continue with its plans to launch Canada’s first law school at a faith-based university.

Since the LSUC decision, lawyers have been assessing whether it would survive a potential court challenge. In a story on the issue in Law Times this week, some lawyers expressed confidence it would. “The arguments made in 2001 were very different,” said Amy Sakalauskas, past chairwoman of the Canadian Bar Association’s sexual orientation and gender identity conference, in reference to the Supreme Court ruling in favour of Trinity Western in 2001.

An issue that could come up in a court challenge now that didn’t arise in 2001 is whether the Trinity Western covenant is legal, says Sakalauskas. Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers “never asked if the covenant is legal; they just assumed it is, which is a huge thing,” she said.

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