Though there is still a long way for us to go, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) rights in Canada are some of the most advanced in the world. However, this is a hot topic within the legal profession.
This is a contemporary issue for us in BC, and in Canada as a whole, as Trinity Western University has fought for accreditation as a new law school program. Earlier this year the Ontario Court of Appeal rejected TWU’s bid for recognition in the province. The Court of Appeal referred to TWU’s prohibition on sexual activity between same-sex couples as degrading and discriminatory. The school’s position is that it does not discriminate and all people are welcome to apply to enrol. However, TWU does require all members of the student body to sign a “community covenant” or code of conduct that forbids sex outside of heterosexual marriage as an admission requirement.
While it appears that religious freedom and equality are in the crosshairs and on a collision course. This is not the case. In actuality it strikes a balance between religious freedom and equality. As intervenors in the case, like the OUTlaws and Out on Bay Street, have stated, the covenant discriminates against LGBTQ persons since it barters their integrity and dignity for an education. This is unacceptable. Religious freedom is not a green light to discriminate and as the gatekeepers to the legal profession the Law Societies in BC and Ontario, who both denied TWU recognition, are upholding their ethical responsibility. As John Norris, a lawyer representing the Criminal Lawyers Association, which also intervened, said “The time has come to not accept at face value religious justifications for discriminatory conduct in the public sphere.”
This is an important issue for us since sexuality and who people choose to have sexual interactions with is irrelevant in terms of their ability to be proficient lawyers. Therefore, denying a person the opportunity to obtain an education either because they violate the covenant or simply refuse to sign it is a travesty to our justice and education systems.
Unlike other diversity categories, such as race or gender, employers are not required to collect statistics on the number of LGBTQ people they employ. While it may seem that sexuality is not part of the work experience as it is a private experience, the reality is that there is a link between sexuality and identity and we bring our sexuality to work every day without often realizing that we are doing so.
Sexuality pervades the workplaces in many ways that are often unseen. Sexuality is present in the pictures of our partners that we place on our desks, whether we choose to wear a wedding ring, and when co-workers chat about their families or what they did over the weekend with their partner. Further, sexuality is an engaged part of workplace policies. It is often seen, or unseen as the case may be, in policies regarding parental leave, partner benefits, and who is invited to social events.
For those that identify as members of the LGBTQ community, to disclose their sexuality at work can be daunting. The choice between either disclosing their sexuality (by refusal to sign the Community Covenant at TWU), or denying their dignity and integrity (by signing it) is one that members of the heterosexual community are not forced to engaged with, and therefore it is discriminatory.
Additionally, if TWU’s plans for a law school do go through it will impact the demographics of the Bar in British Columbia the most since it is likely that most graduates will choose to practice in Vancouver. This will impact the culture of the Bar in BC because if the standards for admission to a law school change in the way TWU is proposing with the mandatory signing of the covenant, then the standards within the Bar will change as well since many of their graduates will likely practice in BC. This means that the standards of professional conduct expected by lawyers and enforced by the Law Society of BC will be impacted, thereby affecting the public and the expectation of being served by competent, honorable legal professionals.
Further, there is the possibility of a stigma being associated with graduates of a law school that discriminates against the LGBTQ. Graduates of other law schools could potentially harbor negative feelings against law graduates of TWU for several reasons, including the fact that the TWU law graduates attended a law school that they simply could not attend if they wanted to stay true to themselves and maintain their integrity and dignity; moreover, they could face stigma due to the fact that the TWU law graduates attended a law school that discriminates. The TWU law graduates may even face further stigma from the public at large for this same reason.
Trinity Western University’s bid to have a law school and have its graduates recognized by the Law Societies around the country is a controversial issue that is very relevant to all professionals within the legal community. This is especially the case in BC since it will have a bigger impact on BC law students and the BC bar than most other provinces.