In December, the proposed law school at Trinity Western University earned preliminary approval from both the National Federation of Law Societies and the British Columbia government (the Law Society of B.C. has not yet made a decision).
Toronto lawyer Angela Chaisson, along with her firm, Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan Barristers, will soon launch a lawsuit against the government of British Columbia for approving the school.
At issue is the university’s community covenant that, among other things, prohibits students from engaging in “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” That covenant, says Chaisson, violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by effectively banning gay students from the campus and, therefore, the government should not have approved the school.
Precedent spoke to Chaisson about the lawsuit and her approach to high-profile cases.
Why did you get involved in this case?
Angela Chaisson: It’s simple: it’s the right thing to do. Also, nobody else seemed to be stepping up. It’s amazing to see how the buck has gotten passed on this. Both the Federation of Law Societies and the B.C. government seem happy to look the other way and say, ‘This is out of our hands.’
It’s notable that you’re not planning to sue Trinity Western, but the B.C government. Can you walk us through that decision?
AC: First of all, I’m not saying that Trinity Western doesn’t have a right to exist. It has the right to preach intolerance and say that being gay is an abomination. That’s vile speech, but it’s protected speech.
I take issue with the B.C. government. When it accredits law schools, it has an obligation to take the Charter into account. Given that Trinity Western has said it will not back down from its covenant, its law school cannot be accredited. In approving the school, the government made the wrong decision.
If this law school does open, what would that say about the legal profession?
AC: A law school that practices discrimination is completely antithetical to both the legal tradition and Charter values. It’s like a medical school that renounces the Hippocratic oath.
You’ve also started a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the legal challenge. The goal is set at $30,000 and so far you’ve raised $13,897. How has the public responded to your case?
AC: It’s been really heartening to see the donations come in — the $5 and $10 donations in particular. Lots of people want to help.
Lawyers are also offering to help work on the case. I got an email this morning from a lawyer saying, ‘I’ll read charter cases until my eyes bleed. I want to be able to do something about this.’
What’s it like to work on such a high-profile case?
AC: High profile or not, the job is the same: it’s about getting the best result for your client — whether there’s nobody in the courtroom or the courtroom is packed with media.
Following the publication of this story on TWU President Bob Kuhn contacted Precedent to offer a response.