The CCRL Welcomes Court Ruling in Nova Scotia Favourable to Trinity Western, Warns of Future Clash of Competing Charter Rights

TORONTO, ON July 27, 2016 – The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) welcomes yesterday’s ruling by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in Trinity Western University (TWU) v. the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (NSBS).

The court upheld the lower court’s January 2015 ruling that sought changes to the Trinity Western community covenant as a condition to accreditation of its proposed law school. The Court of Appeal re-affirmed that such a claim was beyond the authority of the NSBS under its statutory authority, or in relation to Nova Scotia human rights law.

In 2014, the NSBS voted by a one vote majority that future graduates of the proposed Trinity Western law school would be unable to commence the articling process to become a lawyer in Nova Scotia, a decision which effectively denied accreditation of the TWU law degree for the purpose of gaining admission to the Nova Scotia bar. The NSBS decision was based on opposition to the Christian university’s community covenant which, among other things, sought that TWU students abstain from sexual intimacy outside of traditional marriage of a man and a woman.

The CCRL acted as interveners in the appeal and in the original application hearing, with our president Phil Horgan presenting arguments on both occasions in Halifax.

The Nova Scotia decision in favour of TWU follows a recent decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal, which upheld a Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) decision to reject graduates of the proposed TWU law school, by refusing to provide accreditation of TWU degrees.

One further appellate court is assessing the issue in TWU’s home province of British Columbia, where the CCRL also intervened in partnership with Archbishop Miller and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. The current situation in that province remains in flux, pending the court’s decision from hearings in June.

There are expectations that these cases will ultimately go before the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC).

In a more negative aspect of yesterday’s ruling, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal engaged in a discussion of how the NSBS could generate a provision under its statutory authority to authorize the non-accreditation of a particular law school, relying upon recent decisions from the Ontario courts, effectively setting out a road map for how the NSBS could exclude TWU’s future law graduates.

It is important to note that yesterday’s favourable decision focused on administrative law and did not address Charter arguments on the need for respect for authentic pluralism. By engaging in a broad discussion of possible proposals toward a pathway of rejecting accreditation of TWU, the court seemed to invite a future clash of competing Charter rights. The court acknowledged that TWU, as a private religious institution, was immune from Charter scrutiny, but in discussing a speculative path for the NSBS to consider, the court has postponed a future ruling on how competing rights claims would be balanced.

The suggested options proposed by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal would place the NSBS into a conflict of rights scenario with the religious freedoms that TWU is acknowledged to rightfully exercise. The failure of the court to assess the Charter issues will leave them for another day, or for the Supreme Court of Canada.

The League urges the NSBS executive to take seriously the objections now identified by two levels of courts in Nova Scotia, and by most other provinces, to accept the proposed TWU law school, rather than engage in a whole new set of “special” separate rules designed specifically to oppose one Christian university’s law school.


About the CCRL

Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. The CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization with a large nationwide membership base. The CCRL is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.

For further information:

Christian Domenic Elia, PhD
CCRL Executive Director
416-466-8244
@CCRLtweets