On June 29th, 2016 the Ontario Court of Appeal released a decision which upheld the vote by the LSUC to deny accreditation to Trinity Western University’s proposed Law School.
The Court stated that there was a collision between freedom of religion and equality rights in the context of sexual orientation in this case for which a balance must be found.
TWU is an Evangelical Christian university that requires all students to abide by the terms of a Community Covenant which stipulates that the students must abstain from various activities, including sexual intimacy whether heterosexual or same-sex, except within a male-female marriage. This is a belief that is basic to Evangelical Christians as well as to people of many other faiths. The Community Covenant was not making a statement about the LGBTQ community, but rather, was expressing a core Christian belief which is protected under S.2 and S.15 of the Charter of Rights.
The LSUC has authority over the admission to the legal profession pursuant to which it is required to consider the “public interest”. The Court of Appeal concluded that LSUC had engaged in a proportionate balancing of freedom of religion and equality in the context of sexual orientation and had made a reasonable decision to refuse to accredit TWU’s proposed Law School in the public interest.
The court relied heavily on the concept that freedom of religion cannot infringe on the rights of others. But what about the reverse? Why are the rights of the LGBTQ community permitted to infringe on religious freedom? There appears to be a remarkable lack of balance in the court’s interpretations of this concept.
It is noteworthy that the Court did acknowledge that the LSUC decision was an infringement in the Charter rights of freedom of religion of TWU, but nonetheless, reasonable.
It is disturbing that in supporting the LSUC decision, the Court provided shockingly thin reasons for doing so, which lacked substance and credibility.
The court stated that the LSUC must ensure equality of admission to the legal profession and that TWU’s Community Covenant was discriminating against and hateful to members of the LGBTQ community. The Court, however, failed to consider the fact that the Community Covenant also equally prohibits heterosexual couples from entering into sexual relationships outside of opposite sex marriage. The Court also based its decision on international treaties that bind Canada, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Court failed to acknowledge that the latter treaty, and, for that matter, all human rights treaties, do not provide protection for homosexual rights.
The Court’s conclusions, raise questions as to what, in truth, was the reason behind its decision to support the LSUC’s refusal to provide TWU’s accreditation. Is it because the Court believes that LGBTQ rights trump religious rights, even though the Supreme Court of Canada has, many times, asserted that there is no hierarchy of rights under the Charter? Is it because the Court believes that same-sex marriage is sacrosanct and its acceptance must be relentlessly upheld? Or, is it because the Court of Appeal believes that the Christian faith should not be acted upon in the public sphere?
What is the truth behind this decision? It fundamentally affects all Canadians, whether religious or not, who are supposed to live together peacefully in a pluralistic society. Instead, the decision creates division and disrespect for the Charter of Rights and religious freedom.