TWU court challenge filed today

Hot on the heels of the Law Society of British Columbia’s approval of the law school at Trinity Western University, two law firms are proceeding with a court challenge of the B.C. government’s decision on the matter.

Trevor Loke, an openly gay Christian planning to go to law school, is the plaintiff in the constitutional challenge carried out by two law firms: Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan in Toronto and Janes Freedman Kyle Law Corp. in Vancouver.

The court challenge centres on the B.C. minister of Advanced Education’s consideration of whether the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applied to the decision to approve the law school. Loke argues the government had to look at whether the decision interferes with Charter rights and says the failure to do so breaches equality rights by approving a law school that requires all students to abstain from same-sex intimacy.

He also says the decision violates freedom of religion by approving a law school that requires all students to adhere to an aspect of Christianity that condemns same-sex intimacy.

“I find the minister’s endorsement of TWU’s law school humiliating,” says Loke.

“Welcome to the 21st century: this discrimination is simply unacceptable,” says Clayton Ruby, a lawyer at one of the firms retained by Loke. “And don’t sell religion short by using it as an excuse for discrimination.”

At issue is the school’s community covenant agreement that includes a statement about abstaining from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” With the school set to open in 2015, various bodies, including the B.C. government and now the law societies across the country, are considering their stance on the matter.

The petition filed with the B.C. Supreme Court this afternoon notes Loke, 25, is a commissioner of the Vancouver board of parks and recreation who wants to attend law school in his province and is an Anglican who attends church on special occasions.

“In making the decision, the minister creates a pool of law school positions in British Columbia (at four British Columbia law schools), a portion of which (at TWU) are not available to people who engage in same-sex intimacy, whether married or not, thereby excluding sexual minority students,” the petition states.

“The decision perpetuates disadvantage against a marginalized and vulnerable group in a context that demands inclusivity.”

The documents filed today also included an affidavit from a Kelowna, B.C., articling student, Jill Bishop, who attended Trinity Western before studying law. Noting she’s from a religious background, Bishop, a lesbian, said she became increasingly uncomfortable, at Trinity Western during her time there.

“I lived on campus at TWU in the fall semester of 2007, but I found the environment very oppressive,” she wrote. “It was very hard to constantly guard my sexual identity from discovery. I felt that I was forced to live a double-life, and did not like having to lie about my personal circumstances.”

Bishop also noted “the values expressed in the covenant are reinforced constantly in all aspects of life and instruction on campus” and that she was aware of “repercussions for conduct contrary to the covenant.”

“Some professors would condemn homosexual activity, and none would condone,” she wrote. “Some would say if you were born that way, it would be your sin to bear.”

The petition notes Loke is seeking to quash the decision allowing Trinity Western to grant law degrees or, in the alternative, have the minister reconsider the matter.

On Friday, the B.C. law society made its decision to approve the law school for the purposes of its admission program.

Reaction was swift, with groups such as the West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund condemning the law society’s decision.

“TWU’s discriminatory policy effectively excludes LGBTQ students from access to the benefits of a legal education at the university,” said Kasari Govender, executive director of West Coast LEAF.

“It also requires women to cede their constitutionally protected reproductive rights, regardless of their own personal aspirations, dignity, and autonomy. These policies are contrary to the laws of Canada, which all lawyers must swear to uphold, and have no place regulating a law school in British Columbia. We are disappointed that the law society has given its stamp of approval to such blatantly discriminatory practices.”

Trinity Western, of course, welcomed the law society’s decision. “We are very pleased with this outcome,” said Trinity Western president Bob Kuhn.

“We worked for five years, in consultation with many lawyers, judges, and professors, to create a proposal for a high quality law school and this decision allows us to now proceed in building that school. This is also an important decision for all Canadians. It says that there is room in a democratic country like Canada for a law school at a Christian university. TWU’s school of law will join other Canadian law schools, complementing existing legal education in this country.”

For her part, law society president Jan Lindsay noted the challenge involved in coming to a decision that “was thoroughly considered and not taken lightly.”

“The necessity of balancing two Charter rights; the right to equality and the right to freedom of religion, was discussed by many of the benchers,” she said following the decision. “It was obvious that the bencher discussion reflected a deep and abiding belief in the equality rights in the Charter but also the range of views, opinions, and perspectives was impressive in its diversity and thoroughness.”

The Law Society of Upper Canada discussed the issue last Thursday and will vote on whether to accredit TWU law grads on Apr. 24. The next day, the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society will vote on the issue, and the Law Society of New Brunswick takes it on Apr. 27.

Update 4:30 pm: information from the petition filed in B.C. court added.

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