ARPA at the Supreme Court: Trinity Western University

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30 Aug 2017 ARPA at the Supreme Court: Trinity Western University

UPDATE: Read the written arguments ARPA Canada submitted to the Supreme Court on September 5 here.

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear the cases between Trinity Western University and the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario on November 30th and December 1st. ARPA Canada will intervene as it has done at many of the lower courts.

History of the Case

The law societies in British Columbia and Ontario refused to accept graduates from the proposed law school because of Trinity Western’s Community Covenant which requires students to refrain from sexual intimacy outside of a heterosexual marriage. They justified their decision by claiming it is not in the public’s interest to allow a law school to exclude LGBTQ students. Trinity Western challenges the law societies’ decisions as a violation of their religious freedom under section 2(a) the Charter.

This case comes to the Supreme Court with two provincial court of appeals finding opposite conclusions. The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed that Trinity Western’s religious freedom was infringed, but found that it was justified, claiming the “conclusion is a simple one:…[the Covenant] is deeply discriminatory to the LGBTQ community, and it hurts.”

The British Columbia Court of Appeal, on the other hand, sided with Trinity Western. In addressing the Ontario Court’s comments regarding the “hurt” to LGBTQ prospective students, they pointed out that “disagreement and discomfort with the views of others is unavoidable in a free and democratic society.” Allowing for disagreement, especially on fundamental issues, is not only a legal right in Canada, but is beneficial to our society.

“A society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society — one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal. This case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.”

ARPA’s Intervention at the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court must now address these opposite conclusions in a decision that is likely to shape religious freedom in Canada. ARPA Canada will be one of 28 interveners to speak to the Supreme Court during the two-day hearing.

ARPA will use its time to argue that the right of equality is infringed not by Trinity Western, but by the law societies against Trinity Western students. All Canadians are guaranteed access to the public square without discrimination on the basis of religion in section 15 of the Charter. The law societies (as state actors) have denied access to the legal profession to Trinity Western students because of their religious beliefs.

Not only does this hurt, it is unlawful discrimination.

The Importance of this Case

This case will have profound effects on religious freedom in Canada. As ARPA’s Director of Law & Policy, André Schutten said,

“In order for religious freedom to have meaning and effect in a free society, the State cannot interfere with the doctrines and internal affairs of religious communities. And the State cannot interfere indirectly either, through reprisal. That means, if a religious community commits itself to upholding God’s definition and design for marriage (or any other religious issue), then the State cannot then target members of that community. To do so undermines freedom and sends a clear message to society that members of these Christian communities are intolerable.”

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