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VIEW: Trinity Western seeks protection from discrimination in order to promote it

[Editor's note: The Tyee received this unsolicited op-ed from Anita Braha, a Vancouver-based human rights lawyer, and we publish it here for your consideration.]

How is it that Trinity Western University persuaded the Law Society of British Columbia to permit it to accredit its law school?

Trinity Western requires that all students and faculty enter into a covenant that prohibits them from having sexual relations outside of the "sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman." Violations of this covenant may result in discipline and or expulsion from the school.

That is discrimination. Substitute any other protected ground of discrimination, such as if marriage were only permitted between people of the same race, and the offensiveness of the covenant would make its proposal ridiculous.

The Human Rights Code of British Columbia prohibits discrimination on the basis of family status, marital status and sexual orientation, among other grounds. Trinity Western, just like all other universities and colleges, is subject to the application of the code.

Not only is there legal protection for British Columbians on the basis of their marital status, family status and sexual orientation, same sex marriage is also legal in B.C.

The effect of the covenant that Trinity Western imposes on its students and faculty is to deny any person who is not married to a person of the opposite sex the ability to engage in sexual intimacy if they want to study and/or teach at that university.

In seeking the law society's approval, the university is relying on its right to protection from discrimination based on religion, which is a protected ground of discrimination under both the Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The irony is that the university seeks those protections precisely in order to perpetuate discrimination against others based on their family and marital status and on their sexual orientation.

That is not right, nor is it a proper application of human rights principles, which call for mutual respect where all are equal in dignity and rights. The law society should have known better.

All lawyers take an oath of office, which requires them to uphold the rights and freedoms of all persons according to the laws of Canada and British Columbia. Trinity Western's covenant is in violation of the law, which prohibits discrimination.

It is not a satisfactory answer to say that Trinity Western has a right to be free from discrimination, if it is in order to permit it to discriminate. Not only is the right to be free from discrimination not absolute in the manner that Trinity Western seeks to use it, it also does not permit the ranking of protections from discrimination, such that religious freedoms out rank other freedoms and equality rights.

The very body that is supposed to uphold the laws in this province has permitted Trinity Western the ability to discriminate. There is something very wrong in the law society's decision.

It is a good thing that progressive lawyers, led by Michael Mulligan, are taking the law society to task by seeking a special meeting to overturn this wrong-headed decision.

Anita Braha is a human rights lawyer in Vancouver.

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