The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) is pleased with the release of the decision of Justice Jamie Campbell of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, which struck down a previous decision of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (NSBS), seeking that Trinity Western University (TWU) amend its Community Covenant, prior to allowing prospective TWU law school graduates from applying to become Nova Scotia lawyers.
The NSBS had passed by a 10-9 vote on April 25, 2014 a resolution that ordered that potential graduates of the Langley, BC based school not be required to execute the Community Covenant, or have it amended, so that it ceased to discriminate. The TWU Community Covenant required that students commit themselves to a set of behaviours, including a shared understanding that sexual relations be reserved to a man and woman within the confines of a biblical understanding of traditional marriage. Two other provincial law societies in Ontario and British Columbia have also voted not to accredit TWU law school graduates, for which similar court applications are pending. A majority of provinces and territories have approved of the proposed law school, whose opening has now been further delayed by the subject BC Ministry owing to the various outstanding judicial challenges.
The Nova Scotia hearings in December were the first of the challenges brought by TWU. Mr. Justice Campbell struck down the NSBS resolution on the grounds that the NSBS did not have the authority within its governing statute to regulate issues at a university. Moreover, even if it had such authority, the NSBS abused any such authority as a state actor by denying the constitutional freedoms enjoyed by TWU and its students to religious and conscientious freedom under the Charter.
In the words of Mr. Justice Campbell: “People have the right to attend a private religious university that imposes a religiously based code of conduct… even if the effect of that code is to exclude others or offend others. Learning in an environment with people who promise to comply with the code is a religious practice and an expression of religious faith. There is nothing illegal or even rogue about that. That is a messy and uncomfortable fact of life in a pluralistic society. Requiring a person to give up that right in order to get his or her professional education recognized is an infringement of religious freedom.”
“This is a good news story for Canadians, as it upholds basic tenets of our constitution”, according to League President Philip Horgan, who appeared on behalf of the League as an intervener in support of TWU. “We argued in favour of the individual and collective rights of TWU, the fact that the NSBS overstepped its authority, and in particular that it failed to engage in a serious assessment of the rights of the TWU community to maintain a religiously based university, within the terms of its faith community, inclusive of the provisions of its code of conduct. A state actor should not have engaged in an outright denial of those rights, in the absence of authority, or merely because it may disagree with the TWU beliefs, without a serious reflection of context and a rigorous assessment of balancing such rights.”
Horgan continued: “Mr. Justice Campbell made reference to the existence of such codes of conduct at leading Christian, Catholic or other faith based university law schools in North America, such as Notre Dame, or Boston College, which also seek to address sexual intimacy within the teachings of their respective faiths. At a different place, Justice Campbell noted that the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith are shared by existing lawyer members of the NSBS, who respect the dignity and equality of LGBT people, but who are entitled to maintain the church’s teachings on marriage, going so far as to state that it would be “inconceivable” that Roman Catholics would be banned from the practice of law in the province of Nova Scotia.”
Justice Campbell cited with approval arguments raised by the CCRL to bolster submissions by TWU, including the importance of the recognition of authentic pluralism in dealing with cases of religious and conscientious freedom.
The League appreciates the significant efforts of administrators and supporters of TWU, and its counsel on the application, Brian Casey, Q.C. and Kevin Sawatsky, as well as the many other interveners in support of TWU. It is hoped that Justice Campbell’s decision is accorded suitable deference as the cases are addressed in other provinces.
For further information, please contact:
Christian Elia, PhD
Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL)
2305 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M6S 1P1
Toll Free: 1-844-722-CCRL (2275)