Public Relations – An Opportunity to Serve

Over the past several weeks, Trinity has worked to cultivate a positive narrative. Trinity reached out to several publications, ranging from the Gospel Coalition to Convivium to the National Post. Media outlets also reached out to several students to gain perspective on the community. 

  • Near the beginning of the semester, Trinity asked several students to share their experience as students. They produced videos depicting the stories of students: Jared Barkman, Ariana Grimm, Angel Mukunzi Bazubagira, and Jordan Koslowsky. These stories portrayed Trinity as a welcoming institution and accessible to students of diverse backgrounds. The stories also portrayed how Trinity students engage positively in the public sphere.
  • Students were also invited to participate in 48 hours of prayer. Students gathered on campus to pray continuously from midnight on November 30th until midnight of December 2nd. The Facebook group bid students to participate by saying, “Please join us in prayer during these two days to pray for our school, those representing our school, the outcome, for religious freedom, and ultimately for God’s love to be shared through this challenging time.”
  • Students of Trinity’s Laurentian Leadership Program of Ottawa, who were able to attend the hearing, handed out hot chocolate and coffee to those going in and out of the courthouse. Trinity captioned a video depicting the students serving coffee with the phrase: “TWU students hope they can continue serving others!”

Outcomes and New Ways Forward

In the wake of the hearing, the Trinity community has adopted a posture of “expectant waiting.” The hearing left the community without closure. According to the university’s President, Bob Kuhn, it is nearly impossible to quantify the exact number of potential outcomes:

  • Trinity wins. Canada’s Supreme Court finds that none of Trinity’s policies, including the Community Covenant and admission’s policy, are discriminatory. Similarly, they find no evidence that Trinity would perforate un-qualified lawyers into the legal system.  
  • We are granted a conditional win. The Supreme Court may mandate the proposed School of Law’s accreditation on the condition that we change the Community Covenant.
  • One of the intervenors argued that an alternative path to the bar should be applied to graduates of Trinity’s proposed school of law. This additional step would be designed to assess the graduate’s ability to contribute positively and conduct themselves positively in Canada’s legal system. However, Justice Abella raised the question, “Would applying such an additional step,” to ensure Trinity graduates conduct themselves in a non-discriminatory manner, “actually be discriminatory?”

Why this matters: Your anticipated outcome depends on your perception of the issue in contention here. Do you believe, as the law societies do, that Trinity should not have a law school because they will educate lawyers who are unqualified to uphold rational justice in the secular world? If you believe, like Trinity, that this case is about religious freedom, you anticipate an outright victory. If you believe that the problem lies with Trinity’s admissions policy, you are likely to anticipate a conditional win.

Nature of the Institution

This case has profound implications on how Canadian law, and by extension, Canadians, interpret the relationship between the institution and the community. In order for the Justices to determine the legal implications of the Covenant, they needed to determine the role the Covenant plays in the relationship between the institution and the student body. In order to make a legal evaluation of Trinity’s practices the Justices needed to define the language of the code of conduct. This is further complicated by the fact that while some parts of the Community Covenant function as a code of conduct, others function as a suggested standard of morality.

  • Justice Abella finally asked the question that the Trinity community has been asking itself for the last 5 years: “Does a law school have religious freedom…Your argument rests on the idea that a law school can have a religion.” She went on to say, “Is this a new kind of entity?” Essentially, what kind of access does the institution have to rights and freedoms? Whose religious freedom is at stake here, the members of Trinity’s student body, or the religious freedom of Trinity’s administration?
  • On the second day of the hearing, intervenor West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, alleged that Trinity is not only guilty of oppressing members of the LGBTQ2+ community, but also of restricting the reproductive rights of women. The representative argued that because Trinity supposedly oppresses women, who make up a significant majority of the student body, it should be denied the right to educate lawyers.
  • Questions were also raised about the enforcement of the Covenant. Is it possible that the accountability policy—meaning students “informing” on each other—violates privacy rights?
  • Prefacing her question with the words, “This is going to get spicy,” Justice Abella asked,  “How does your institution define sexual intimacy?” Trinity’s representation declined to answer. She went on, “Is this kissing? Holding hands?”

Chief Justice Announces Retirement

Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin has announced her intention to retire on December 15th, 2016. Ms. Machlin was born September 7, 1943, and went on to study philosophy and law at the University of Alberta. She joined the Supreme Court in 1989 and is distinguished as Canada’s longest serving Chief Justice.

Why this matters: The Justices are able to contribute to a decision up to six months after their retirement. Therefore, Trinity can anticipate that the decision will be prepared by June 15th.

Admissions Policy

In order to come to a decision, the Justices need to assess the relationship between the Covenant and TWU’s admissions policy. Trinity’s lawyers argue that the Charter does not apply to Trinity because it is a “private, sectarian entity.” The school receives no public support—therefore, students attending Trinity choose to adhere to adhere to its norms of behaviour of their own volition. However, what are the implications when a private institution pursues a relationship with the public sphere: accreditation from the law societies’?

  • What distinguishes this case from the previous times Trinity’s professional programs have faced barriers to entry into the public sphere is the fact that the Charter has since been amended. This is to protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • Justice Abella immediately sought to define the jurisdiction of the law societies. Does the jurisdiction retain the right to evaluate institutions based on their admissions’ policy, or does its authority begin when students seek membership in the bar?
  • Justice Karakatsanis asserted that this is not a case of a class of graduated lawyers seeking admission to the bar and being denied. Instead, it is a question of the law society’s right to accredit. This assertion has significant implications on the assessment of harm in this case.