British Columbia

Trinity Western law school decision overturned by B.C. Supreme Court

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has overturned the Law Society referendum denying accreditation to graduates from Trinity Western University.

Procedural decision does not engage with ongoing conflict of charter rights issues

The B.C. Law Society is appealing last month's ruling from the B.C. Supreme Court, which overturned the society's referendum denying accreditation to graduates from Trinity Western University. (CBC)

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has overturned the B.C. Law Society referendum denying accreditation to graduates from Trinity Western University.

The university filed suit following the results of the referendum October 2014 in which Law Society members voted that graduates from TWU's proposed law school would not be recognised.

That referendum had overturned a decision by the Law Society board (known as the Benchers) in April 2014 to approve accreditation for TWU graduates.

Chief Justice Hinkson ordered the October 2014 decision quashed, and the original Benchers' decision allowing accreditation to stand.

In his judgement released Thursday, Hinkson said the Benchers had acted improperly when they allowed the LSBC members to hold the later referendum, essentially delegating the decision to the members.

Hinkson added that, even if his decision on the delegation is found to be wrong, it remains the case that the referendum "was made without proper consideration and balancing of the Charter rights at issue, and therefore cannot stand."

Charter rights in conflict

The TWU School of Law has yet to open its doors to its first class of students, but at the heart of the controversy is Trinity Western's insistence that students must sign a Christian covenant that states sexual relations are to be confined within the bounds of a marriage between a man and a woman.

The procedural decision reached by Hinkson precluded a proper discussion of the conflicting charter rights between freedom of religion and equality rights, Kendra Milne, director of law reform at West Coast Leaf said in a statement.

"It is unfortunate that this important issue, which engages fundamental rights, was not resolved in the decision and that the procedural issues in the case may cause additional delays in having these important issues determined.

"B.C. lawyers voted twice and made it very clear that they want an inclusive profession that respects equality."

After the October 2014 vote, Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan said the school's policy is discriminatory against people in LGBTQ relationships.

"The policies of this university are inconsistent with core values of the legal profession, insofar that this university continues to dispel or expel students for their private sexual activities," he said at the time.

In July this year, an Ontario court upheld the Ontario law society's refusal to accredit TWU law graduates, but in March, Nova Scotia's Supreme Court ruled that its province's law society could not deny accreditation to TWU law grads (the decision is being appealed). 


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