“There are compelling reasons why our highest court should make it clear that public bodies must not discriminate against people who hold their own religious convictions while demonstrating understanding and respect for the views and dignity of others.”
-Dr. Guy Saffold, TWU Executive Vice President
Langley, British Columbia – On November 9, Canada’s highest court will hear a case that many legal experts and Canadian groups say will be pivotal in defining future religious freedoms and civil liberties for all Canadians. The Supreme Court of Canada announced today the date for hearings for an appeal concerning certification of Trinity Western University’s teacher education program. The appeal is being brought forward by the British Columbia College of Teachers (BCCT), which has twice been ordered by lower courts to accredit the fifth year of the university’s teacher education program.
“The pivotal principle at stake in this challenge is this:” says Guy Saffold, EdD, TWU’s executive vice-president, “Will public regulatory bodies be permitted to deny certifications, professional licenses and other benefits on the basis of religious beliefs and to do so even without producing any evidence of intolerance or unacceptable behavior?”
The November hearing in the Supreme Court will cap a legal dispute that has been in the courts for four years. Despite two lower court rulings that there is no evidence to support the BCCT’s case, and ample evidence that TWU-trained teachers in fact have an exemplary record of sensitivity and compassion in diverse public school classrooms, the BCCT’s governing council has continued to deny approval based on disagreement with a university policy concerning homosexual behaviour – ignoring the reports of its own investigation teams which had concluded TWU’s program deserved approval.
The BCCT contends that TWU students who abide by a community standards agreement to refrain from extramarital sex while attending university, including pre-marital sex, adultery and homosexual behaviour, might be biased against gay students in the public school classroom.
“The BCCT has been able to cite only vague suspicions and stereotypical perceptions to justify its decisions,” says Saffold. “Most Canadians find this kind of thinking prejudicial and offensive. Decisions based on stereotypes are anathema to our laws and amount to discrimination.” The courts have so far upheld TWU’s case. The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that the BCCT has failed to produce even “one bit of evidence” of intolerance and that its actions, therefore, are “patently unreasonable.”
“TWU has been training teachers for 13 years and our graduates teach in B.C. public schools with distinction,” says Saffold, “ Our teacher education students are taught to be compassionate, professional teachers who uphold the dignity and welfare of every student. These are precisely the kind of teachers our schools need.”
TWU’s case has gained wide support, and six groups critical of the BCCT’s decision have been granted intervenor status at the Supreme Court, including the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The civil liberties groups have both argued that the BCCT’s decisions were flawed and in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Also supporting this position will be the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Christian Legal Fellowship and the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Two other approved intervening parties, Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE) and the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers Federation (OSSTF), are expected to argue in support of the BCCT’s position.
“Canada is a multicultural land with many diverse communities,” says Saffold. “Trinity Western University believes that Canadian values require that we treat one another with genuine respect and uphold each other’s basic human dignity while at the same time permitting us liberty to disagree on issues. There are compelling reasons why our highest court should make it clear that public bodies must not discriminate against people who hold their own religious convictions while demonstrating understanding and respect for the views and dignity of others.”
Following the hearing before the nine Supreme Court justices in November, it is expected a final decision on the matter will be rendered in spring 2001.
Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling 2,763 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.
Last Updated: 2012-08-21