by CCRL | Nov 2, 2016
TORONTO, ON November 2, 2016 – The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) applauds yesterday’s unanimous 5-0 decision of the BC Court of Appeal in favour of Trinity Western University (TWU) in its ongoing struggle against the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC).
The League had acted as intervenors in the case alongside the Faith and Freedom Alliance (FFA) and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver (RCAV), with the generous support of Archbishop Michael Miller.
The Law Society had revoked the accreditation of the proposed TWU School of Law after complaints by members that TWU unlawfully discriminated against the LBGTQ community through its community covenant. The Christian university’s community covenant asserts, among other things, that TWU students act in a Christian manner, including on matters of morality. A provision conveys expectations that TWU students abstain from sexual intimacy outside of traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
Through a RCAV press release, Archbishop Miller stated:
I’m very pleased with the decision from the B.C. Court of Appeal upholding Trinity Western University’s religious rights. It acknowledges and respects the right to freedom of religion, which is the first freedom guaranteed by in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Citing the Loyola case in Quebec, where the CCRL also intervened on behalf of freedom of religion, Archbishop Miller continued:
In the Loyola High School case, the Supreme Court of Canada wrote, “Ultimately, measures which undermine the character of lawful religious institutions and disrupt the vitality of religious communities represent a profound interference with religious freedom.” [Loyola para 67, cited at TWU v. LSBC, para. 128]
Indeed, Canada’s social and legal tradition is based on balancing competing rights, rather than setting one against the other. The B.C. Court of Appeal ruling is consistent with our longstanding tradition.
The proposed law school has also faced challenges from Ontario’s Law Society of Upper Canada and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. In July, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s January 2015 ruling that rejected the demand for changes to the TWU community covenant as a condition for accreditation.
The Court of Appeal reaffirmed that such a claim was beyond the authority of the NSBS under its statutory authority, or in relation to Nova Scotia human rights law.
CCRL President Phil Horgan noted:
We are particularly pleased that the BC Court of Appeal made its unanimous decision in part having recourse to submissions which the CCRL has used numerous times when defending religious and conscientious freedom or the role of faith in the public square. We continue to maintain that a robust concept of pluralism in Canada is a key component of a healthy democracy, and of civil society. Religious beliefs cannot be subjugated to non-belief in our public debates.
There is much to be praised from the decision, including these references on the merits of whether offensive statements causing “hurt” should form a basis of constitutional disapproval in a balancing of rights case:
 We address here the submission, made by the Law Society intervenors and accepted by the Ontario Court of Appeal, that the Community Covenant “is deeply discriminatory, and it hurts”. The balancing of conflicting Charter rights requires a statutory decision-maker to assess the degree of infringement of a decision on a Charter right. While there is no doubt that the Covenant’s refusal to accept LGBTQ expressions of sexuality is deeply offensive and hurtful to the LGBTQ community, and we do not in any way wish to minimize that effect, there is no Charter or other legal right to be free from views that offend and contradict an individual’s strongly held beliefs, absent the kind of “hate speech” described in Whatcott that could incite harm against others (see paras. 82, 89-90 and 111). Disagreement and discomfort with the views of others is unavoidable in a free and democratic society.
 Indeed, it was evident in the case before us that the language of “offense and hurt” is not helpful in balancing competing rights. The beliefs expressed by some Benchers and members of the Law Society that the evangelical Christian community’s view of marriage is “abhorrent”, “archaic” and “hypocritical” would no doubt be deeply offensive and hurtful to members of that community.
The court provided a helpful summary at the end of its ruling, language which is sure to become an oft-quoted passage from this case:
 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.
The League certainly hopes that the forcefulness of the BC Court of Appeal decision will have a lasting effect on our Charter jurisprudence.
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