September 30, 2014
Trevor Loke wants to go to law school. One expects he’d flourish: the park board commissioner, 25, is the youngest elected official in the city’s history. However, he is keenly aware that seats for law students in the province are few, so when the Ministry of Advanced Education endowed Trinity Western University’s new law school (to open September 2016) with 60 and he realized he would effectively be barred from attending that school, he was more than frustrated.
Loke is gay, and while gay and lesbian students are nominally welcome at Langley’s “Christ-centred” TWU, all students must sign a covenant stating that they will abstain from sex outside heterosexual marriage during their time there. The courts, however, dismissed this “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach in 2013: to deny a person’s sex life is to deny the person.
Loke was discussing all this with a friend who decided to drop a line to Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby. Ruby called Loke and asked him to come onboard as the plaintiff in a lawsuit that is slated to begin December 1. “We had this long discussion,” says Loke, “about what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is for.” They also talked about the stakes for this case: “I think Canada needs a diverse set of lawyers interpreting our country’s constitution.”
Trinity Western University may not be bound by the Charter (indeed, since 1990’s McKinney v. University of Guelph, universities generally aren’t), but governments certainly are — which is why Ruby filed his case not against the university but against Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk. “If we degrade and demean a couple hundred prospective law students,” says Ruby, “it makes all our lives that much meaner and more despicable.” Meanwhile, the law societies of Ontario and Nova Scotia have declared that, if the school does become a reality, they will not recognize TWU law grads in their provinces. (British Columbia has okayed the credentials.)
All this has Bob Kuhn, president of TWU, in the awkward position of claiming persecution under the Charter, too. His school’s religious freedom, protected under Section 2, is being impinged upon. He considers these new cases moot anyway, as all this was settled in 2001: the courts ruled in favour of TWU when B.C.’s college of teachers tried to bar it from creating a teacher-training program. Kuhn believes his school has been granted permission to differentiate itself from other schools: “Some of the best law schools in the country were founded by faith-based institutions, so to say we shouldn’t have a hand in this is to defy history and to defy logic. Some would argue religious institutions have no place in Canada, but in a pluralistic society we are entitled to have a place.”
Loke also knows something about persecution. He was kicked out of his home after he came out. Members of his hockey team let him sleep on their couches until he got on his feet. “But today it’s better,” he says. “I have a great relationship with my parents. They just needed time. They never had a chance to understand, after all, because they lived in a world where they didn’t know anyone who was gay.”