West Coast LEAF was recently granted intervenor status by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in the case of TWU and Volkenant v. Law Society of BC. The case concerns the BC governments approval of a proposed law school at Trinity Western University. TWU is an evangelical Christian university which requires all staff and students to sign a community covenant. The covenant includes a promise not to engage in “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”. The covenant also prohibits abortion. Contraventions of the covenant are punishable up to and including expulsion. The covenant effectively means that the university, and accordingly the law school, are not open to the LGBTQ community. The university and the law school also limit the reproductive choices of its female students and employees. The Law Society of BC following a referendum decided not to offer accreditation to TWU’s law school. This means that graduates of the TWU law school would not be recognized law school graduates for the purposes of the Law Society. TWU then brought a court action to set aside the Law Society’s decision to refuse accreditation. That order was given by the British Columbia Supreme Court and the Law Society is now appealing that decision to the BC Court of Appeal. You can read the BC Supreme Court decision here.
West Coast LEAF sought intervenor status which would enable them to make arguments at the British Columbia Supreme Court in support of the Law Society’s position. That status was granted. West Coast LEAF is the first and only organization in BC that is dedicated to promoting women’s equality through the law. They intervene in a wide variety of cases, with their goal being to create a society in which women are full participants in all social, economic and political activities. West Coast LEAF’s website describes the argument that they intend to make in favour of the Law Society’s position as follows:
…West Coast LEAF submits that the Law Society’s refusal to recognize TWU’s proposed law school is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We intend to argue that TWU’s Community Covenant violates the Charter’s equality provisions because it discriminates against prospective students and staff:
- On the basis of sexual orientation and marital status because it prohibits all sexual relationships that are not heterosexual and between married persons; and
- On the basis of sex because it penalizes female students for exercising their right to choose abortion.
This case provides an important opportunity to explore how equality rights should be balanced against religious freedom. While TWU is a private educational institution, it intends to issue law degrees that would be recognized by the public legal system through the Law Society and the Ministry of Advanced Education. In West Coast LEAF’s view, TWU must respect the Charter’s equality protections when its activities – such as the certification of practicing lawyers – enters the public realm.
The BC Court of Appeal will be hearing the case from June 1 – 3, 2006.