Decision to refuse to approve proposed law school represented proportionate balance

Supreme court | Constitutional Law | Charter of Rights and Freedoms | Nature of rights and freedoms

Respondent university, TWU, educational arm of evangelical Christian church, sought approval for proposed common law degree program. TWU required its students to sign community covenant (“Covenant”) that members abstain from certain conduct, including “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”. Benchers held binding referendum of members of appellant law society, LSBC. Seventy-four per cent of LSBC members voted to declare that TWU’s proposed law school was not approved for purposes of LSBC’s admissions program. TWU successfully applied for judicial review. LSBC’s decision quashed. Court of Appeal upheld lower court decision and concluded that decision not to approve TWU’s law school did not represent proportionate balance between LSBC’s statutory objectives and relevant Charter protections. LSBC appealed. Appeal allowed. Effect of LSBC’s decision was limitation on right of TWU’s community members to enhance their spiritual development through studying law in environment defined by their religious beliefs in which members follow certain religious rules of conduct. Accordingly, religious rights were engaged by decision. LSBC’s decision reasonably balanced severity of interference with Charter protection against benefits to its statutory objectives. LSBC’s decision did not prevent any graduates from being able to practise law in British Columbia, nor did it prohibit any evangelical Christians from adhering to Covenant. Interference was limited to preventing prospective students from studying law at TWU with mandatory covenant. Refusal to approve proposed law school meant that members of TWU religious community were not free to impose those religious beliefs on fellow law students, since they had inequitable impact and could cause significant harm. Given significant benefits to relevant statutory objectives and minor significance of limitation on Charter rights at issue, decision to refuse to approve TWU’s proposed law school represented proportionate balance. LSBC’s declaration that TWU’s proposed law school not be approved was restored.

Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University (2018), 2018 CarswellBC 1510, 2018 CarswellBC 1511, 2018 SCC 32, 2018 CSC 32, McLachlin C.J.C., Abella J., Moldaver J., Karakatsanis J., Wagner J., Gascon J., Côté J., Brown J., and Rowe J. (S.C.C.); reversed (2016), 2016 CarswellBC 3008, 2016 BCCA 423, Bauman C.J.B.C., Newbury J.A., Groberman J.A., Willcock J.A., and Fenlon J.A. (B.C. C.A.).

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