Supreme Court upholds refusal to accredit TWU law school
Supreme Court of Canada dismisses TWU appeal
The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the Law Society’s decision to refuse to accredit TWU’s proposed law school.
Trinity Western University (TWU) is an evangelical Christian institution that requires all students and staff to sign a “Community Covenant” in which they agree that the only healthy form of sexuality occurs within a marriage between a man and a woman. Breaching the Covenant can lead to sanctions, up to and including expulsion.
TWU wants to establish a law school, and sought to have the Law Society of Upper Canada – now the Law Society of Ontario – agree that it would accredit the law school so that its future graduates would automatically be eligible to be called to the bar in Ontario.
The Law Society determined that it was not in the public interest to accredit a law school with a discriminatory admissions policy. That decision was upheld by the Divisional Court, and TWU’s appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal was dismissed. TWU appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Supreme Court’s decision
A majority of the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed TWU’s appeal.
The Court held that the Law Society has an overarching interest in protecting the values of equality and human rights in carrying out its functions. Its refusal to accredit the proposed law school represented a proportionate balance between the limitation on freedom of religion guaranteed by s. 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the statutory objectives the Law Society was seeing to protect. Those objectives included equal access to the profession, diversity within the bar, and preventing harm to LGBTQ students.
In a separate decision, the Supreme Court granted the appeal of the Law Society of British Columbia against TWU. The lower courts in B.C. had found in favour of TWU in similar litigation in that province. The Supreme Court held that the LSBC was entitled to consider the public interest in determining whether to accredit a law school, and reasonably concluded that accrediting TWU’s proposed law school would impose inequitable barriers on entry to the school and ultimately to the profession.
Adriel Weaver represented Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, which intervened in the appeals in support of the law societies.