Nova Scotia

Trinity Western University wins legal battle with Nova Scotia Barristers' Society

Nova Scotia's Court of Appeal has dismissed a legal move designed to prevent Trinity Western University graduates from practising law in the province.

Society had argued 'community covenant' discriminated against gay people

Trinity Western University students must sign a covenant recognizing the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's highest court has upheld a decision to allow future graduates of a conservative and controversial law school to practise in the province.

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision released Tuesday rules in favour of the proposed law school at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C.

The private, Christian university had been turned down by the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society in 2014 because it requires students and staff to abide by a community covenant. The covenant says students must abstain from sexual intimacy that violates the "sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."

The barristers' society said that covenant violates the Charter of Rights with regards to sexual orientation and so it refused accreditation to graduates.

Ordered to pay legal costs

But the court said the society's council did not have the authority to "issue rulings whether someone in British Columbia 'unlawfully' violated the Human Rights Act or the charter."

"Trinity Western's activity occurred in British Columbia, and was outside the reach of Nova Scotia's Human Rights Act. As a private university, Trinity Western was not subject to the charter of rights. Trinity Western did not act 'unlawfully' under either enactment," the decision said.

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The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society was also ordered to pay $35,000 in legal costs to Trinity Western University.

The court did not comment on the charter arguments.

'Freedom of conscience'

Trinity Western spokeswoman Amy Robertson has said the covenant has "nothing to do with wanting to push away members of the LGBT communities."

"The community covenant is a core part of defining the TWU community as distinctly Christian," she said Tuesday.

"We are not making a statement about LGBTQ people; we are making a statement about traditional Christian marriage, which is sacred to us. The same covenant calls for all members of the TWU community to respect the dignity of others regardless of their background."

Appeal heard in April

The university took the case to the provincial Supreme Court — and won. The barristers' society's appeal was heard in April.

"Freedom of conscience and religion is the first fundamental freedom upheld in the charter," Robertson said in a news release Tuesday. 

"Everyone, religious or not, should celebrate this decision, which amounts to a protection of our freedom and our identity."

Daren Baxter, the president of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, said the society hasn't decided whether to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Daren Baxter, the president of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, said the society and its lawyers will study the decision carefully before deciding its next move. (CBC)

"We will seek the advice of legal counsel and there is a process we would have internally. We would have to determine there is a benefit to doing that," he said Tuesday.

"We have no issues with quality of the legal education or the individuals that may be coming forward in the future. It's the admission requirements that are a concern to the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society."

The planned law school has already received accreditation in six other provinces: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. It is expected to open in 2018.

Legal fights across Canada

Law societies in Nova Scotia, Ontario and B.C. have all opposed granting accreditation to Trinity law school graduates, sparking legal battles that have pitted freedom of religion against equality rights.

The Law Society of Upper Canada rejected the proposed school and Trinity Western appealed. In June, Trinity received a negative ruling from the Ontario Court of Appeal.

The Law Society of British Columbia has also said it will not recognize graduates from the proposed school. That case is before the courts after the society appealed a Supreme Court of British Columbia decision that recognizes graduates of the university.

Trinity Western says it ultimately expects the matter to go before the Supreme Court of Canada.