Trinity Western University (TWU) will sound familiar to most Canadian atheists. Back in 2001, the British Columbia College of Teachers (BCCT) – which was, at the time, the professional regulatory body for teachers in BC – denied accreditation to its teaching certification program because of the university’s bigoted stance against homosexuality. The BCCT said that accrediting TWU would violate its own anti-discrimination policies. TWU sued, and the case went all the way up to the Supreme Court (Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers).
Unfortunately for the BCCT, the Court ruled 8–1 that they were out of line to deny accreditation. The BC Civil Liberties Association agreed with the ruling. It was a tricky case involving balancing religious freedom, freedom of association, and equality, but the BCCT was really overstepping their bounds in deciding that one set of Charter freedoms automatically trumped another set.
(Interestingly, this wasn’t the only Supreme Court case involving the BCCT and its stance against homophobia. In the 2005 Kempling v. British Columbia College of Teachers judgement, the BC Supreme Court ruled in the BCCT’s favour in a case involving a teacher who promoted “conversion therapy” (you know, “cure the gayness in you so you’ll be straight” therapy). The Supreme Court of Canada denied the appeal request. The teacher, Kempling, also tried his luck with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, but that didn’t work out for him either. In an unrelated move, the BCCT was shut down by the Government of BC in 2011 after a political scuffle between the government and the teacher’s union, and BC teachers have been seething since.)
Well, it seems history is repeating itself. This time it’s TWU’s proposed law school.
And this time it’s the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), the bar association for Ontario – the biggest bar association in Canada.
28–21, the LSUC voted to deny accreditation to the future law school of TWU (which is slated to open in 2016). TWU is already pissed off, and threatening “re-litigation”.
Ah, but it gets better!
Because following that, the Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society (NSBS) voted 10–9 to deny accreditation to TWU’s law school… specifically unless they dropped the anti-gay crap.
Unfortunately, the school was previously approved for accreditation a couple weeks ago by the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC). (That decision is already being challenged.) And back in December, it was approved by the national coordinating body, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC). Because of these, it means that even if both the LSUC and the NSBS continue to withhold accreditation, graduates from TWU’s law school would probably still be able to practice law in Ontario and Nova Scotia, because of the “mobility” agreements between the various provincial bodies.
These announcements are likely going to trigger another major court case, and the landscape has changed considerably since 2001. In 2001, same-sex marriage was still illegal, remember. Does that mean that if this goes to the Supreme Court, the results may be different? I don’t know. I don’t know exactly what the lawyers in the two professional bodies are thinking either – being lawyers, I find it surprising that they would provoke a court case they are pretty much doomed to lose, though maybe they’re just doing it on principle. On the other hand, maybe they know something I don’t, and think they have a chance at winning.
Still, this is something to keep an eye on. If nothing else, the bad press TWU keeps getting will put more pressure on them to change their policies.
Update (2014-Apr-27 01:00)
Blogger Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist has covered the LSUC case, though not the NSBS case yet. He (along with commenter KC below) is just baffled as I am as to how this might actually be a good strategy.
I’ve heard a few lawyers try to distinguish the current situation from the BCCT case but I don’t see it. My guess is that the court will overturn the refusal to accredit. Benchers are elected and they were probably influenced by some pretty strong lobbying by those opposed to TWU.
Yeah, it might just be a political thing. Or possibly just “sending a message”, no matter how futile it might be. One presumes these bar associations have deep pockets, so they might not be fazed by the threat of a court battle. (And they’re lawyers, too – the idea of a major court fight might even turn them on.)
At the very least, this kind of publicity isn’t bad. Anyone who sees TWU on someone’s resumé might recall the name in association with bigotry and intolerance.
I would love to hear some of the arguments for distinguishing these cases from the BCCT one, though. Any lawyers out there, please weigh in!
Sean McGuire’s post has information to add to this discussion.
“No, Actually We Are All Funding Your Anti-Gay Christian University.”:http://www.mysecretatheistblog.com/2014/04/no-actually-we-are-all-funding-your.html