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Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission

Pride Celebrates Equality Over Exclusion

As Nova Scotians came together to celebrate the 27th Annual Halifax Pride Festival this summer, we saw what equality means to those who have experienced discrimination on the basis of difference. Pride asks us to see that what we have in common matters most. After all, our unique cultural differences are nested in a common humanity.

When common humanity is lost, we begin to judge some as "other" and somehow less relatable to us as people. Yet, coming to know the differences between our communities provides the innovation and diversity that enable us to thrive.

Throughout the various Pride events held across Nova Scotia, our province was able to celebrate our common humanity and its resilience. While at the same time celebrating the joy of cultural uniqueness as a strength. Dignity and respect deepen, as we took time and build relationships with those who we as a whole, think are different. In participating in these events we are one step closer to overcoming the "othering" and judging that comprise human rights harms.

In recent months, there has been some reporting about Trinity Western University, the debate around religious expression, human rights, and the legal arguments of each side. The Langley, British Columbia school's Community Covenant requires all students, administrators and faculty to abstain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman"; This Covenant could also have ill effects against those who are in gay relationships or our transgender population. Signing of the Covenant is required of all students and staff attending and working at the university.

This case challenges the structure of Canadian society at a core level — the separation of church and state. This is perhaps the most important democratic, Charter or human rights issue to face us in thirty years. Nova Scotia and many other parts of Canada have evolved in a way that considers the secular state must remain religiously neutral so all people have the same access to services. A secular entity becomes open to the public and therefore would have a direct impact on the public interest; this is where the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has sought to intervene in the matter with TWU. It is our mandate to assist professional societies such as the Barristers' Society to support human rights, the balancing of them and facilitating discussion on the public interest.

The fact that we "balance" rights, rather than take away rights to resolve these issues, is quintessentially Canadian. In this case, the right of expression of a "religious world view" in law school training is balanced against the rights of full participation of the LGBTI community in society.

As the legal conversation continues over the TWU issue, we have an opportunity to look for the common humanity in each other on both sides of the debate, appreciate its complexity and continue to build relationships with one another.

NS Human Rights Commission, Octorber 22nd, 2014

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