Supreme Court of Canada rules on Section 2(a) Charter appeals involving Trinity Western University’s proposed law school

15 June 2018

Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University, 2018 SCC 32
Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada, 2018 SCC 33

On June 15, 2018, the Supreme Court of Canada issued twin rulings in appeals arising from the decisions by the Law Societies of British Columbia and Ontario to refuse accreditation of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school.

Trinity Western University ("TWU") is an evangelical Christian postsecondary institution that sought to open a law school that requires its students and faculty to adhere to a religiously based code of conduct, the Community Covenant Agreement (“Covenant”), which prohibits "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman". The Covenant would prohibit the conduct throughout the three years of law school, even when students are off campus in the privacy of their own homes.

The Law Society of Upper Canada ("LSUC") is the regulator of the legal profession in Ontario. The LSUC, by resolution of its Benchers, denied accreditation to TWU's proposed law school because of its mandatory Covenant. TWU and V, a graduate of TWU's undergraduate program who would have chosen to attend TWU's proposed law school, sought judicial review of the LSUC's decision on the basis that it violated religious rights protected by s. 2(a) of the Charter. They were unsuccessful in their application for judicial review in the Ontario Divisional Court and in their subsequent appeal to the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal.

The Benchers of The Law Society of British Columbia ("LSBC"), the regulator of the legal profession in British Columbia, voted to hold a referendum of its members on the issue of the approval of TWU's proposed law school and agreed to be bound by the results. The members voted to implement a resolution declaring that TWU's proposed law school was not an approved faculty of law because of its mandatory Covenant. The Benchers therefore passed the resolution. TWU and V successfully brought judicial review proceedings to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, arguing that the LSBC's decision not to approve TWU's proposed law school violated religious rights protected by s. 2(a) of the Charter. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. The Supreme Court ruled that the appeal should be allowed and that the resolution of the LSBC be restored.

Jeff Beedell of Gowling WLG was Ottawa agent for the Canadian Bar Association and The Advocates' Society, working with their counsel teams to help win intervener standing and make written and oral submissions, in their roles as interveners in both appeals.


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