As we prepare for the next EFC webinar on June 11 on religious freedom, we revisit some recent developments in Canada.
by Albertos Polizogopoulos
January 28 was a great day for religious freedom and the freedom of religious individuals to associate together in community.
Justice Jamie Campbell of the Nova Scotia Superior Court issued his decision in Trinity Western University’s application to judicially review the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society’s decision not to admit Trinity Western University graduates to the practice of law in Nova Scotia.
In his 140 page decision, Justice Campbell set out the reasons for his decision, which concluded that the NSBS attempted to regulate Trinity Western University’s policies and practices, that the NSBS did not have the authority to do so and that even if it had had the authority to do so, it did not exercise that authority in a way that reasonably considered liberty, freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.
Throughout his decision, Justice Campbell demonstrated his appreciation of not only the relevant law, but the importance of the issues at play and how those issues affect evangelical Christians. He recognized that in this case, the NSBS is bound by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms while Trinity Western University is protected by it. He clearly concluded that although Trinity Western University’s Community Covenant may be offensive to some, that it was not unlawful, noting that Trinity Western University had never been found to be in violation of applicable human rights legislation. In discussing Evangelical Christians’ desire to study law at a faith-based law school Justice Campbell stated:
[Evangelical Christians’] religious faith governs every aspect of their lives. When they study law, whether at a Christian law school or elsewhere, they are studying law first as Christians. Part of their religious faith involves being in the company of other Christians, not only for the purpose of worship. They gain spiritual strength from communing in that way. They seek out opportunities to do that. Being part of institutions that are defined as Christian in character is not an insignificant part of who they are.
Justice Campbell further acknowledged the rights of Evangelical Christians to hold certain beliefs, act upon those beliefs and to not have the state interfere with those beliefs:
There is no doubt that the beliefs held by Evangelical Christians are sincere. They include the belief in the sanctity of the traditional marriage between a man and a woman. They include the belief in the importance of being in an institution with others who either share that belief or are prepared to honour it in their conduct. They have a right to hold those beliefs and the right to act upon them. The state through the NSBS does not have the authority to try to coerce them into changing those beliefs so that they conform to those of mainstream society.
Finally, Justice Campbell noted that in a pluralistic and multicultural society like Canada, there will inevitably be individuals who hold religious or moral beliefs which some find offensive or may not understand. In a pluralistic and multicultural society however “[t]he law protects them and must carve out a place not only where they can exist but flourish.”
While this is a major victory, there are ongoing challenges to similar decisions from the law societies in Ontario and British Columbia. While this decision is not binding in those challenges, it is an indication of the current status of the law in this regard.
Albertos Polizogopoulos is a partner with Vincent Dagenais Gibson LLP and a lawyer for the EFC.