Religiously motivated hate speech/discrimination in Canada
2013-2016: Reactions to the Trinity
Western (TWU) law school controversy
We use the acronym "SSM" throughout this section to represent "same-sex marriage"
We use the acronym "LGBT" to refer to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons
and transsexuals. The acronym "LGB" refers to lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.
Reactions to the controversy at the proposed law school at Trinity Western University:
- Bob Kuhn, the president of TWU said that the accreditation refusals:
"... send the chilling message that you cannot hold religious values and also participate fully in public society." 1
- Responses by readers of The Toronto Star newspaper about the decision of the Law Society of Upper Canada were mixed. The readers all appear to agree that bigotry and discrimination are involved, but they aren't in agreement over who is the victim and who is the perpetrator.
- Some criticize the school for religiously-based discrimination against the LGBT community.
- Others criticize the Law Societies and society in general for criticizing the schools' wish to have the freedom to discriminate against sexual minorities.
- Some sample postings are:
- Stephen Langevin posted:
"The suggestion that a religious institution should be allowed to do so is an utter perversion of the concept of religious freedom."
- "RCR6" posted:
"So again in this wonderful country of Religious freedom the tail once again wags the dog. I still do not appreciate that the homosexual community has stolen a word from our vocabulary but also that we now have to bend over backwards, (no pun intended) to please these people. I really don't care what they do with each other but time they stopped dictating to the rest of the world."
- "Starbycat" posted:
"As a Christian I find this difficult yet the church and teachings I follow are less dogmatic and thus I feel that religious concerns should not trump cultural or societal rights. The last thing I want to see as a Canadian are groups of religious people being allowed to discriminate on the basis of sex, age, color, status, or sexual preference. This is Canada and I don't want to have what I consider to be Canadian values to be changed by religious groups."
Webmaster's comment about meanings of terms: "Starbycat" used the obsolete term "sexual preference" where most people use the term "sexual orientation." It refers to the gender to which a person is sexually attracted. The usual definition of sexual orientation is that lesbians and gays are attracted only to members of the same gender, heterosexuals are attracted only to members of the opposite gender, and bisexuals are attracted to both genders, although usually not to the same degree. Thus it is only bisexuals, who comprise perhaps 5% of the population, who can be said to have a "sexual preference."
- RichardGanton posted:
"This is bigotry on their part. They are basically saying that Christian belief is bigotry. This violates the right to religious freedom in Canada. They are saying that anybody who is a Christian lawyer or a judge is a bigot."
- "Realfreeenterpriser" posted:
"Bravo! It's about time that someone told this excuse for a university that judgmental bigotry isn't welcome in Ontario especially when it comes disguised as somehow being 'Christian' behaviour. Try as I might, I can't find any biblical reference to Christ weighing on the subject of homosexuality. 2
- Kimberly Potter, a Toronto, ON lawyer, wrote an article in the Commentary section of the Toronto Star newspaper which delivers a valuable insight to the topic. She wrote, in part: 1
"Trinity Western ... has not been denied accreditation because it is a faith-based school, but because requiring its members to adhere to the Community Covenant discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. As an institution, and not an individual, Trinity Western does not have religious rights.
Although the school is permitted under British Columbia’s human rights legislation to 'prefer' adherents of Christianity in its admission policies, this exemption should not translate into a religious right to require homosexual students to renounce a fundamental part of their identity as part of the price of admission. ..."
"Religious accommodation must have its limits. This is particularly the case when an institution that is responsible for training lawyers to uphold the laws of Canada, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, claims the right to discriminate in the name of religion.
In voting against accreditation in a case where the equality interests are clear and the religious freedoms at stake ill-defined, Ontario and Nova Scotia’s law societies got it right." 1
2014-APR-25: Trinity Western (TWU) law school is refused accreditation in Nova Scotia:
During public hearings on TWU accreditation earlier in 2014, a number of lawyers and legal experts condemned TWU's policies. Elaine Craig, who is on the faculty of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, said that to accredit TWU's law school would be to sanction "blatant and explicit discrimination" and violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
By a narrow vote of 10 to 9, the Nova Scotia Barrister's Society council voted to discriminate against proposed TWU's law school because TWU asserts the religious freedom to discriminate against sexual minorities. The Society would allow TWU law school graduates to practice law in Nova Scotia, but not to article there.
Bob Kuhn, president of TWU, objected to the refusal to accredit the proposed law school. He questioned whether there is meaningful freedom of religion in the country. 3
The solution to TWU's quandary is obvious. If TWU were to stop insisting on the right to exercise its religious freedom by discriminating against minorities within their student body, it is certain that all of the Law Societies across Canada would stop discriminating against the TWU law school and would accredit their school. However, it would appear that TWU would have to take the first step.
Mid-2016: Update of the Trinity Western law school controversy:
The conflict continues to develop:
- Trinity Western has taken the fundamentalist Christian position that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- the Canadian Constitution -- guarantees that their law school has the religious freedom to require its students and staff to sign a community covenant that limits the latter's sexual behavior to those married couples composed of one woman and one man. This would generally exclude all sexually active relationships and marriages within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. It would also discriminate against opposite-sex students who wish to become sexually active.
The university has approached all of the provincial law societies across Canada, seeking accreditation for its graduates:
- Six law societies, those in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan, have granted accreditation to the law school.
- Three law societies have refused accreditation. In each of these provinces, the University has launched a lawsuit to force the law society to grant accreditation:
- In British Columbia, a lower court overturned the law society's decision. This ruling was appealed to the province's appeal court during 2016-JUN.
- In Nova Scotia, the provincial Supreme Court overturned the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society's decision. That case has been appealed to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
- In Ontario, on JUN-29, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal of a Divisional Court's earlier decision in favor of the Law Society of Upper Canada's denial of accreditation. (The term "Upper Canada" is an archaic term that referred to what is now the Province of Ontario.) Justice James C. MacPherson wrote the decision, stating that the law school's covenant is:
"... deeply discriminatory to the LGBTQ community, and it hurts." 5
Amy Robertson, a spokesperson for Trinity Western issued a statement saying that the court decision is:
"... a loss for all Canadians. Freedom of conscience and religion is the first of the fundamental freedoms mentioned in the Charter. ... It is deeply compromised by this decision, and everyone in Canada, religious or not, should be concerned." 4
Paul Schabas, the Treasurer of the Law Society issued a statement saying:
"We are pleased that the Court recognized the Law Society's role in preventing and removing discriminatory barriers to access to the legal profession and, as the Court put it, 'the desirable goal of promoting a diverse profession'.
As the Court said 'one of the LSUC statutory objectives is to ensure the quality of those who practice law in Ontario. Quality is based on merit, and merit excludes discriminatory classifications.'
On the question of whether the Law Society balanced its role and its impact on TWU, the Court asked itself whether the Law Society of Upper Canada's decision was reasonable. It said that '... the answer to this question is Yes, indeed Clearly Yes." 5
Two cases involving Trinity Western vs. the Law Societies of Upper Canada and British Columbia were appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. The high court accepted the joint appeals and will start hearings on 2017-NOV-30.
Webmaster's comment: (bias alert)
In my opinion, the core question here is unrelated to the freedom of religious belief. It is rather whether religious freedom is constitutionally protected if it is taken beyond belief and results in an actual action involving active discrimination against a protected minority in Canada.
The stakes are rather high for Trinity Western. Many of its law students would probably wish to have the freedom to practice law in Ontario at some time after graduation. Further, if the Supreme Court of Canada eventually rules that discriminatory actions such as TWU's -- that are based on religious beliefs -- are not protected, then graduating students might find themselves with limited options to practice law in Canada. That would probably result in a serious reduction in the number of applicants to their law school. However, their sincerely held conservative religious beliefs call on TWU to require students to sign a covenant that discriminates against:
- LGBT students who wish to become sexually active or to marry.
- All students whose religious and/or moral beliefs oppose discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
- Any student who is involved or many become involved in a loving, committed relationship and who wishes to become sexually active.
If the Supreme Court of Canada upholds the decision of Ontario's Court of Appeal, then their ruling would probably kill either TWU's law school, or the school's covenant. Hopefully, for the sake of the students who are already part way through their education, it would be the covenant that is axed.
In my opinion, the core question here is unrelated to the freedom of religious belief. It is rather whether religious freedom is constitutionally protected if it is taken beyond belief and results in an actual action involving active discrimination against a protected minority in Canada. It is essentially a replay of the many examples of discrimination against public accommodations in the U.S. (Public accommodations are companies that provide goods and services to the general public.) There have been many cases where professional photographers and owners of bakeries, florists, marriage venus, etc. -- who are conservative Christians -- have refused on religious grounds to offer their goods and services to potential clients of the same-sex who are planning to marry.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Kimberly Potter, "Trinity Western debate not a conflict over competing rights," Toronto Star, 2014-MAY-06, at: http://www.thestar.com/
- Jane Gerster, "Law Society votes against accrediting controversial Christian law school," Toronto Star, 2014-APR-24, at: http://www.thestar.com/
- Keith Doucette and Melanie Patten, "No articling for Trinity Western law students in Nova Scotia," Maclean's, 2014-APR-25, at: http://www.macleans.ca/
- Blair Rhodes, "Trinity Western University appeal appears headed for Supreme Court," CBC News, 2016-JUN-29, at: http://www.cbc.ca/
- Paul Schabas, "Treasurer’s statement on Court of Appeal’s decision on TWU," Law Society of Upper Canada, 2016-JUN-29, at: https://www.lsuc.on.ca/
Copyright © 2013 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2013-MAR-02
Latest update: 2017-NOV-30
Author: B.A. Robinson