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EFC Welcomes Nova Scotia Court of Appeal Decision in Trinity Western Case

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada welcomes today's Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision in Trinity Western University v. Nova Scotia Barristers' Society. In a decision that focused on administrative law, the court agreed with the lower court ruling that the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society (NSBS) did not have the statutory authority to reject Trinity Western's (TWU) proposed law school based on the university's Community Covenant.
Trinity Western University is located in the Fraser Valley community of Langley and enrolls about 4,000 students annually. AP photo

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada welcomes today's Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision in Trinity Western University v. Nova Scotia Barristers' Society. In a decision that focused on administrative law, the court agreed with the lower court ruling that the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society (NSBS) did not have the statutory authority to reject Trinity Western's (TWU) proposed law school based on the university's Community Covenant. 

"No one is disputing TWU's ability to provide an excellent law school education and produce graduates who will serve Canadians well," says Bruce Clemenger, President of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. "But this decision is a good reminder that TWU's policies and its Community Covenant are not unlawful. They are an expression of their deeply held religious beliefs." 

The NSBS had made accreditation of TWU's proposed law school conditional on either removing part of the university's Community Covenant - a document based on the school's religious convictions that prohibits sexual intimacy for students outside of the marriage of a man and a woman - or exempting law school students from signing it.

The Court of Appeal found that TWU's Community Covenant did not constitute unlawful discrimination. Moreover, the lower court found that requiring a person to give up the right to attend a private religious university that imposes a religiously based code of conduct in order to get his or her professional education is an infringement of religious freedom.

"Religious institutions have made significant contributions to the public good in Canada and make up an important part of the Canadian mosaic," says Clemenger.  "A critical component of living in a free, diverse and plural society is the affirmation of religious freedom and the recognition of the contribution of faith based organizations make to our society." 

The EFC intervened in this case along with Christian Higher Education Canada (CHEC), an association of Christian higher education institutions. TWU is an affiliate of the EFC and a member of CHEC. 

Facts:

  • Trinity Western University, a private Christian liberal arts university with six professional schools, won approval from the B.C. government for a professional law school in December 2013.
  • The Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) approved the TWU law school in December 2013.
  • The NSBS objected to the section of the Community Covenant requiring students to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman - a view which is informed by the university's religious commitments.
  • The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, a member of the FLSC, decided in April 2014 that it would refuse to accredit TWU's proposed law school unless it changed its Community Covenant or exempted its law students from signing it.
  • In December 2014 the B.C. government revoked its approval for TWU's law school based on the decisions of law societies of Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia. 
  • TWU challenged the NSBS decision and in January 2015 the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled that the NSBS did not have the authority to refuse to accredit TWU's proposed law school. The NSBS appealed this decision.

 For additional resources on the joint EFC and CHEC intervention in Trinity Western University v. Nova Scotia Barristers' Society including the factum, visit www.theEFC.ca/TWUlaw.