Trinity Western launches court action to defend law school

Trinity Western University, which has been under scrutiny for its policies around homosexuality, is going to court in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia to respond to what it calls threats against freedom of religion.

Christian law school under scrutiny for its policies around homosexuality

Trinity Western University has announced it is launching lawsuits in Ontario and Nova Scotia, where the provincial bar associations have voted not to accredit graduates of the law school. (Trinity Western University)

Trinity Western University, which has been under scrutiny for its policies around homosexuality, is going to court in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia to respond to what it calls threats against freedom of religion.

The B.C. university announced Tuesday it is launching lawsuits in Ontario and Nova Scotia, where the provincial bar associations have voted not to accredit graduates of the law school, which is set to open in 2016.

It will also apply to be added to a lawsuit in B.C., where Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby is suing the provincial government over its decision to approve the law school.

Trinity Western University, which bills itself as the largest independent Christian liberal arts institution in Canada, requires its 3,600 students sign a covenant abstaining from sexual intimacy "that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."

Critics say the covenant is discriminatory against gays and lesbians and essentially bars anyone in a gay relationship from enrolling in the school.

Last month, the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society voted to conditionally approve articling students from Trinity Western's new law school as long as the school changes the covenant for law students or allows them to opt out.

That followed a decision by the Law Society of Upper Canada in Ontario, which ruled not to accredit the faith-based institution.

Trinity Western University's website states the Law Society of Upper Canada's decision to "reject otherwise highly qualified graduates sends a message that in Ontario you cannot hold religious values and fully participate in society."

Legal proceedings will commence next month.

'That is discrimination'

"We feel the provincial law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia have made decisions that are legally incorrect," Bob Kuhn, the president of Trinity Western University, said in a statement.

Rene Gallant, the president of Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, said his group was not surprised that Trinity Western University decided to take legal action. (CBC)

Kuhn noted the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the school's favour in 2001 in a similar case related to the accreditation of its teaching graduates.

"The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in the country, comprised of the best legal minds, and their decisions should be respected. In law, their decisions must be respected," he said.

Rene Gallant, the president of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, said he wasn't surprised to hear about the university's decision.

"I think that it was predicted by many," he told CBC News.

"It was discussed during the debate that the decision that eventually was made — which was a conditional approval of the school — would be challenged in court."

Gallant said Trinity Western is in the wrong.

"Forcing people to sign a contract that says they will follow those beliefs and they can be expelled from the law school if they don't — including reporting on others — that takes it too far," he said.

"That's not religious freedom that is protected, that is discrimination."

Law societies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, P.E.I. and Nunavut have decided to accept Trinity Western's graduates.

With files from The Canadian Press

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