Universities shouldn’t teach discrimination

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he BC Supreme Court recently overturned the Law Society of BC’s decision to exclude graduates of Trinity Western University (TWU) from reaching the provincial bar. The original decision came on the heels of controversy over TWU’s community covenant, a document that incoming students are required to sign, which, among other requirements, calls for students to refrain from all sexual relations outside that within heterosexual marriage. 

The decision, which was was mainly due to issues of procedure that led to the Law Society’s ban, has just been appealed. The issue is likely to reach the Supreme Court of Canada, and it wouldn’t be the first time. In 1997, the university filed suit in the Supreme Court of Canada over the BC College of Teachers refusing the university accreditation for similar reasons. The court sided with TWU.

Law societies around Canada have revolted against accreditation applications for its future law school — and for good reason. Homophobic policies belong in the dustbin of history along with Jim Crow laws, and not in 21st century Canada.

TWU’s supporters often argue that the university’s policy has no impact on the quality of their graduates or their preparedness to enter the job market. They’re dead wrong. Teachers who graduate from a school that punishes LGB students cannot be expected to create a safe environment for these students in their own classrooms.

Similarly, we cannot expect lawyers who graduate from TWU to have respect for Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms when their own school goes against its basic principles of equality and non-discrimination. The Law Society’s mandate should be to protect the integrity of their profession and this is, no doubt, threatened by TWU’s homophobic policy.

We cannot expect lawyers who graduated from TWU to have respect for Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

What troubles me the most is the message TWU sends to its students, young adults, many of whom may be struggling to accept their sexuality. What TWU says to youth is that their moral code represents the highest standard of integrity, and that LGBTQ+ individuals are precluded from that standard by virtue of their nature. That message is not only a blatant lie — it’s also dangerous.

The claim that TWU is legally exercising its freedom of religion is as morally vacuous as asserting the personhood of corporations; institutions should not be able to claim freedom of religion.

Let’s be clear: TWU is not a church nor is it a theological seminary. It is a place of higher education. The charter grants freedom of religion so that citizens can feel safe from religious persecution. However, TWU enforces a theological regime against its students, ignoring not only the religious beliefs of many students who are not Christian but also those Christians who do not share TWU’s homophobic views.

TWU argues that students affirm their support for beliefs by simply enrolling as a student. Since when does wanting a university degree mean that you have to subject yourself to religious beliefs that aren’t yours?

BC and the Supreme Court of Canada should follow the example of an Ontario Superior Court in 2015, when they approved TWU being excluded from the Ontario Bar. Said the court, “One of the central issues that arises from the Community Covenant is the prohibition [. . .] against (quoting TWU) “‘sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman’ [. . .] Despite some efforts by TWU to contend that the Community Covenant does not operate in a discriminatory fashion, it is self-evident that it does.”

I couldn’t agree more.

8 COMMENTS

  1. You say, “We cannot expect lawyers who graduated from TWU to have respect for Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.​​” You have it backward.

    The Charter applies to the state for protection of citizens’ freedom from statism.

    Most important is that the relation of law societies to the public is the same as the state to the public. The Nova Scotia ruling for TWU showed this; as Justice Campbell said, “[9]. … The NSBS as a state actor has to comply with the Charter.” This means NSBS is not merely a private club but an agent of the state. Similarly, every law society is a state actor.

    The point is that law societies are arms of the law, with the same coercive powers to decide a lawyer’s occupation or dismissal; and subject to the same Charter rules as the state: no discrimination against private parties like TWU on grounds of religion, sex, race, etc.

    — Rob McVey, T4B

    • Who grants accreditation? The state does. So what you’re asking for is for the state to be complicit in denying LGB people an equal opportunity to study law. That quite clearly infringes on their section 15 equality rights.

      • It is not me; it is the Charter saying that the state (including state actors) may not interfere in TWU’s freedom (of contract, association, etc., etc.). Equality rights mean the state is enjoined to equality before the law. The constitution/ Charter does not rule or apply to citizens but to the state.
        I do understand that lefties (progressives) WANT the Charter rules to apply to citizens, but that actually is a self-contradiction since it breaches our freedoms.
        — Rob McVey, T4B

        • I didn’t say it was you saying it, and I’m aware of what the Charter says and who it applies to. What I’m saying is that the state, in accrediting TWU, would be complicit in violating the equality rights of LGB people. It’s not a question of whether the Charter should apply to citizens or not, because state action is necessarily required for that violation to occur.

          • It seems we’re talking past each other. My take is that the state ensures equality before the law by the explicit interpretation to NOT use the enumerated grounds to discriminate (race, sex, religion, orientation, etc).

            What specific solution would you propose (without initiating force against any private party) to arrive at equality for LGB people?

            — Rob McVey, T4B

  2. A proper understanding of the Charter and democracy as well as our Canadian multicultural heritage creates a framework which allows people to exist, coexist and thrive, despite differences. Only totalitarian states don’t allow for freedom of opinion and diversity to exist. Despite the fact that the LGBTQ community may not agree with TWU’s position and even find it offensive, it does not mean that it should be silenced. It works both ways. Freedom, democracy, and diversity mean learning to live side by side with those who think very differently from you, not seeking to close them down, silence them, and extinguish that part of their existence from the public square. You wouldn’t want that to occur if the roles were reversed, so, how is this any different?