Trinity Western University—InquiryPublished on 16 June 2015 Hansard and Statements by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on Senator Plett’s inquiry on Trinity Western University’s proposed law school. As a British Columbian senator and also the only member of the Law Society of British Columbia in the Senate, I feel compelled to speak on this motion.
I want to thank Senator Plett for introducing this motion. So far, Senator Doyle, Senator Runciman and Senator Meredith have spoken in favour of and supported Senator Plett’s motion.
Honourable senators, human rights should be ever-growing like trees. As we learn about and appreciate each other’s differences and become more tolerant of what makes us all unique, we should grow as a society and transform our roots into branches and branches into leaves, representing the diverse and multicultural society that is the face of Canada today. I also believe we should not, however, be an accordion-like society that expands and compresses when needed to produce the sound that it desires. We should be like ever-growing trees.
I support and will always support the right of communities to have religious schools and universities in our country. I believe they have a vital role in helping develop the values of our children.
Honourable senators, I have two children, Azool and Farzana. They both attended Catholic schools. Azool attended St. Patrick’s and St. Thomas Aquinas, and my daughter Farzana attended St. Thomas Aquinas. In Uganda, my dad was very instrumental in helping build Catholic schools.
As you all are aware, it is very difficult to obtain a place in a Catholic school in Vancouver, especially if you are not of Catholic faith. As such, my husband Nuralla and I had an uphill battle to have our children attend Catholic schools.
On the day of my daughter’s interview with the principal of St. Thomas Aquinas, she surprised me with her responses to his questions. The principal asked her whether she was being forced to attend St. Thomas Aquinas and she responded, “My parents like the values you teach, and I would like to learn all about the Catholic faith and Christianity, as I live in a predominantly Christian country.” Happily, she attained a place at St. Thomas Aquinas.
Farzana was such a good student in religion class that in her final years of high school, she was in the advanced religious Catholic class, a class where girls were aspiring to become nuns. In fact, one of her very good friends from that class became a nun.
One day I asked her why she decided to take advanced Catholic religion, and she responded, “Mum, Catholics have the same values as we do and a lot of their rituals are like ours. I learn almost the same things on Saturday at our religious classes as I learn in school.”
Honourable senators, if we took the time to understand each other’s faith, we would be richer. Religion does not divide us; our ignorance of each other’s faith divides us, as I learned from my amazing daughter Farzana.
As a parent and a mother, I subscribe to and support religious institutions. As a lawyer from British Columbia, I have a challenge with one section of the community covenant of Trinity Western University that every student to the school must adhere to. The covenant requires students to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
Attaining admission to the university is limited to those who agree to comply with the expectations set forth in the covenant. Compliance with this covenant is mandatory both on and off campus. Violating the covenant can result in various forms of discipline, including suspension and expulsion from the school.
Honourable senators, Canada is a country that prides itself on its diversity. We are a country deeply rooted in the preservation and protection of human rights. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression and association. The Charter also grants individuals equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.
The Canadian Human Rights Act declares that:
. . . all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability . . . .
The act describes that any practice based on one or more of the aforementioned grounds of discrimination is indeed a discriminatory practice.
Honourable senators, the aforementioned section of the covenant of Trinity Western University violates Canadian human rights, specifically those of same-sex couples. Of course, as a parent, I accept the portion of the covenant respecting the sacredness of marriage, but I will never accept rights of same-sex couples being denied. If the covenant stated that only married people could have intimate relationships, I would support it, but with the language “between a man and a woman,” the covenant is discriminatory on its face and its meaning, resulting in the rights of same sex-couples being denied.
Regarding the covenant, my law society’s position can be distinguished from that of the British Columbia College of Teachers’ position against Trinity Western University, as the law society has a different set of duties and responsibilities.
In the case of Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers, a similar issue was at hand regarding the discriminatory effect of the covenant and the British Columbia College of Teachers approving a teacher education program. In this case, the court held in favour of Trinity Western University, citing that the British Columbia College of Teachers does not qualify “to interpret the scope of human rights nor to reconcile competing rights. . . . This is a question of law that is concerned with human rights and not essentially educational matters.”
It further stated that:
Neither freedom of religion nor the guarantee against discrimination based on sexual orientation is absolute. The proper place to draw the line is generally between belief and conduct. The freedom to hold beliefs is broader than the freedom to act on them. Absent concrete evidence that training teachers at TWU fosters discrimination in the public schools of B.C., the freedom of individuals to adhere to certain religious beliefs while at TWU should be respected. Acting on those beliefs, however, is a different matter.
Unlike the College of Teachers, the Law Society of British Columbia is a protector of the public interest in the administration of justice and is statutorily required to “preserve and protect the rights and freedoms of all persons and to protect the integrity and the honour of the legal profession.”
Law schools play an integral role in Canadian society and the Canadian legal system. They are the first step in training lawyers and judges, who are at the heart of the administration of justice. Lawyers are expected to uphold the rule of law and the fundamental values that underpin our democratic society. The honour and integrity of the profession and the public faith and confidence in the justice system depend on the legal profession living up to this duty. As such, the law society has an obligation to make rules and set requirements that will uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual people can be admitted to Trinity Western University’s proposed law school only if they agree to abstain from what the covenant treats as their sinful sexual behavior. As such, they must renounce their sexual identity and treat their right to marry as a nullity for the duration of their education at the proposed law school. The Law Society of British Columbia described that “this renunciation would only come at an unacceptable personal cost effectively barring lesbian, gay, and bisexual Canadians from attending the school.” It is this discriminatory impact that the law society is standing up against.
On its decision to not to approve Trinity Western University’s proposed law school for the purpose of admission to the British Columbia Bar, the Law Society of British Columbia explained that “the legal profession of British Columbia does not condone and will not facilitate the exclusion of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from the practice of law.”
It further went on to explain:
This has not been done to punish Trinity Western University or those who hope to attend a law school rooted in evangelical Christian values, but rather to advise that the Law Society does not consider it to be in the public interest in the administration of justice for prospective graduates of a law school that discriminates in its admission policy to be enrolled in the Law Society’s admissions program.
Honourable senators, all this boils down to is this: How do individuals get treated? How do our young people perceive going to that university?
I would like to share the story of Trevor Loke. Trevor is a 25-year-old Christian who sexually identifies as gay. He has been with his common-law partner for four years and calls British Columbia his home. He plans to apply for law school in his home province and has felt humiliated by the covenant at Trinity Western University. He stated:
I’m not welcome at school because of who I am. If my partner happened to be female, I would be welcome.
It’s something I cannot help — even though I’m somebody who has tried to serve the public in everything I do, even though I’m Christian — just because I check the wrong box, I’m not welcome.
Trevor felt personally discriminated against and felt that his rights were violated because he is unwilling to disavow his sexual identity. On his hopes for the future, Trevor stated:
My hope is we don’t have to live in a society where we segregate based on who people are. Segregation belongs in the history books.
Honourable senators, Trevor’s story is only one account of an individual who feels discriminated against and restricted by the covenant of Trinity Western University. Chief Justice Hinkson of the British Columbia Supreme Court noted that Trevor’s case was in the public interest. In British Columbia, the purpose behind the province’s human rights code is:
. . . to promote a climate of understanding and mutual respect where all are equal in dignity and rights;
to prevent discrimination . . .
to identify and eliminate persistent patterns of inequality associated with discrimination prohibited . . . .
As we can see through Trevor’s story, Trinity Western University’s covenant is inconsistent with both British Columbia’s and Canada’s framework of human rights, and it is this inconsistency that the Law Society of British Columbia, as well as the law societies of Upper Canada and Nova Scotia, are standing up against.
Ten years ago the Parliament of Canada passed Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act, making Canada the fourth country and the first in North America to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. By 2009, all provinces and territories included sexual orientation in their human rights law. I cannot believe that we are standing here in 2015 and stating that those rights do not deserve our support and protection. I can never accept an institution denying the rights of same-sex couples. It is our duty and responsibility as senators to fight for rights, and I will always fight for human rights.
Honourable senators, when an accordion is played, the bellows of the instrument are expanded and compressed to allow airflow to produce the desired sound. Human rights should not be treated like an accordion, where we expand them only to suddenly compress them as we wish.
Canada has been a leading nation in fostering the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. But just as we celebrate these rights, it would be wrong if we suddenly diminish these rights as we please. There is no place for discrimination in our society. Human rights should be continuously evolving and growing like a blossoming tree that can proudly show off its leaves.
Honourable senators, I stand here today even with everything that’s happened to our institution to say to you that I am a very proud senator. And I am proud today to stand and tell you what has happened to Trevor. I will fight very hard to make sure Trevor’s rights are protected.