Senator Plett's Statement on the Trinity Western University Supreme Court Ruling
Trinity Western University
Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Colleagues, this past Friday the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a decision representing the biggest slap in the face to religious freedom in our country’s judicial history. The Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, sided with Ontario and B.C.’s law societies who have decided not to accredit future graduates of Trinity Western University’s proposed new law school because the students are required to sign a community covenant, or code of conduct, upon enrolment. The code of conduct bars sexual intimacy other than that within a marriage between a man and a woman.
Some law societies stated there would be fewer law school slots available for homosexual students nationally, which is simply false. The school does not prohibit gay students or even non-Christians from enrolling, and the rule in question will undoubtedly affect more unmarried heterosexual couples.
No one is compelled to attend this university, as former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin pointed out:
Students who do not agree with the religious practices do not need to attend. But if they want to attend, for whatever reason, and agree to the practices required of students, it is difficult to speak of compulsion.
However, McLachlin set reason aside and was one of the seven who voted against the university.
The ruling is full of contradictions and yet, sadly, is profoundly precedent setting. Until now, the reigning Supreme Court principle was the result of a 2001 decision following a challenge of Trinity Western’s proposed teachers’ college. In this 8 to 1 decision, the Supreme Court stated:
For better or worse, tolerance of divergent beliefs is a hallmark of a democratic society.
Apparently, this principle, while supposedly protected by our Charter, is one that is no longer held by our highest court.
Justices Côté and Brown, in a well-reasoned dissenting opinion, eloquently ripped Friday’s decision apart:
The state and state actors (like the law societies) — not private institutions like Trinity Western — are constitutionally bound to accommodate difference in order to foster pluralism in public life. Equating approval (of Trinity law) to condonation, (of the covenant) turns the protective shield of the Charter into a sword by effectively imposing Charter obligations on private actors.
They later state:
Canadians are permitted to hold different sets of values.
Colleagues, this is a sad day for religious freedoms. I will close with this, as noted by Howard Anglin, Executive Director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation:
The right at stake in this case was freedom of religion, but it could just as easily be freedom of speech or expression in a future case.