The B.C. Court of Appeal has upheld the right of future graduates of the faith-based Trinity Western University (TWU) Law School to practise law in the province.
The ruling upholds a previous decision made by a B.C. Supreme Court judge who ruled the Law Society of B.C. was wrong to deny accreditation to future alumni of the Christian university's proposed law school.
'Everyone, religious or not, should celebrate this decision.' — University spokeswoman Amy Robertson
At issue was the school's so-called community covenant, which all students must sign, pledging to be sexually intimate only with a member of the opposite sex to whom they are married.
On Tuesday morning in Vancouver, the court dismissed an appeal from the law society, which had argued the covenant discriminated against members of the LGBT community.
Instead, the panel of justices ruled that the society's decision to deny accreditation limits the university's right to freedom of religion in a disproportionate way.
In the written decision, the justices highlighted charter issues and the impact that banning the university's graduates would have on TWU's rights.
The law society's opposition "denies these Evangelical Christians the ability to exercise fundamental religious and associative rights," which are protected under the Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they wrote.
The judges stated while LGBT students would be unlikely to attend TWU's law school, the overall impact on their access to education in the legal field would be minimal.
The panel ruled that not accrediting TWU graduates would be "unreasonable."
The law school was slated to open this fall, but on Tuesday university officials said because of the ongoing legal disputes, the earliest it will now open is in 2018.
TWU said in a statement it is pleased with the decision.
"Everyone, religious or not, should celebrate this decision as a protection of our Canadian identity," said university spokeswoman Amy Robertson.
It's unclear if the law society will challenge the ruling. In a statement it said the ruling "adds another dimension to an already complex issue," and that it is considering its next steps.
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But today's ruling is unlikely to be the last word in the long-running legal battle by the university's law school, which has also been fighting for recognition in Nova Scotia and Ontario as well.
The case appears almost certain to end up before the Supreme Court of Canada after the Ontario Court of Appeal sided with the Law Society of Upper Canada in June.
The university indicated at the time it would seek an appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Meanwhile in Nova Scotia, the Barristers' Society announced in July it would not appeal a ruling allowing graduates to practise in the province.
Five law societies — in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island — have all granted accreditation to the law school, while the the society in Newfoundland and Labrador has yet to decide its position.
Long-running legal battle
Today's decision follows a lengthy battle that dates to 2014 when the Law Society of B.C.'s board of governors voted to accredit TWU graduates.
That decision was reversed in October 2014 when the society held a referendum in which members voted 74 per cent against it.
That move was then challenged at the B.C. Supreme Court, where a judge ruled the governors' original decision should be restored because the society had acted improperly in how it held the referendum.