The Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective: A History of Thefts, Assaults, and Harassment

Since November 2016, we’ve faced threats, assaults, thefts and other forms of pro-choice violence from the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective. We’ve followed up with Toronto Police and Ryerson University, and other legal action is ongoing.

After the attack by Gabby Skwarko on Monday, October 1, we are going public with the evidence we have of the pattern of aggression from this group.

Our team members have never been the subject of a police investigation for our activism. The RRJC has falsely alleged that we have assaulted them. This is categorically untrue, and we challenge the RRJC to produce any evidence whatsoever to substantiate the false allegations. Here’s our evidence of their consistent pattern of pro-choice violence.

The Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective has been trying to figure out how to censor us and prevent us from sharing the pro-life message for two years. They have no clue how to stop us. They have tried unsuccessfully to cover up the corpses and stifle the abortion debate on campus. Despite this opposition, we continue to change hearts and minds at Ryerson.

However, our team is consistently the target of pro-choice violence from the RRJC for our peaceful and civil outreach. The RRJC resorts to violence out of desperation because they are not content with civil discourse and they have been unsuccessful in trying to censor us or prevent us from sharing our message. This needs to stop. No one should be assaulted for having a civil conversation on a university campus. We are shining a light on the RRJC’s deplorable conduct to put an end to it.

Featuring…

  • Paige Galette, then Campaigns Coordinator for CESAR (Continuing Education Students Association of Ryerson) and Co-Founder of the RRJC (Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective) — a variety of incidents including theft, threats, disruption of University-sanctioned event. Cautioned by police, no charges laid. Student union employee, not subject to Ryerson University sanctions.
  • Cassandra Myers, then RSU (Ryerson Students Union) staff member as coordinator in an Equity Centre, then Ryerson Board of Governors 2016-2017 — assault by water throwing, theft and destruction of property. Cautioned by police, no charges laid. Ryerson University refused to investigate a complaint under the Student Code of Conduct after the police investigation.
  • Gabriela “Gabby” Skwarko, 2017-2018 Faculty of Arts Director for the RSU (Ryerson Students’ Union). Investigations underway from Toronto Police and Ryerson’s Student Conduct Office from Oct 1, 2018 attack.
  • Julia Pivetta and Alex Douglas — stole a sign with an image of a healthy embryo and attempted to put it into the trash. Cautioned by police, no charges laid. The Ryerson Student Conduct Office applied penalties, but refused to say what penalties were applied.
  • Liezl Yance, President (Interim) CESAR (Continuing Education Students; Association of Ryerson), seen blocking camera to provide cover for incidents.
  • Hannah Levitt-Day, grabbing camera and uttering threats (“I want to rip you apart ’cause I hate you guys so much”, “I’m really gonna grab a can of spray paint and just spray you guys” minutes before Gabby Skwarko’s attack)

 

Some people question why we film our demonstrations. The video should make the answer to that question obvious — for our own safety and protection, we film during our demonstrations so that when we face pro-choice violence, we have evidence to report to the authorities.

Testimony of a Mind Changed by Truth

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it goes without saying that a video is worth far more. 

At the beginning of September, I was at York University with my colleagues, talking to students and other people in the community about abortion. As usual, we were displaying large images that show ultrasounds of healthy pre-born children, and images of the victims of abortion to contrast, and show evidence of how abortion violently ends their lives. This time, however, I also brought video evidence. 

I interrupted a conversation that my colleague Leire was having with a young man who was pro-choice. He was saying that abortion is sometimes justifiable, depending on the circumstances of an unexpected pregnancy. I asked him if he had ever seen what abortion actually looks like and offered to show him an animated depiction. He had never seen, and agreed to watch.

He quietly watched, as former abortionist Dr. Anthony Levatino described the most common procedure, aspiration (suction) abortion.

When Dr. Levatino showed the suction machine being turned on, the young man gasped in disbelief and horror, as he watched the 11-week fetus’ head torn off by the machine, and sucked through the cannula, then the arms, legs, and torso ripped apart and also sucked through. He shook his head in shock and disgust, as he watched the abortionist go back into the uterus to retrieve the parts left behind – an arm, some tissue, and scrape them out. 

When the short video ended, I asked him if what he had seen had changed his opinion about abortion. He said, “Yes, that is horrible, and no circumstance justifies doing that – ever.”

While Leire had built great common ground with him and had a sign in front of her with an abortion victim on it, for him, that picture didn’t tell the full story. When he saw with his own eyes what abortion actually does – decapitates and dismembers a living human being, he decided that was something he could no longer justify, no matter the circumstance. He became pro-life, because he saw the truth for himself. 

We often tell people that we don’t actually protest abortion, we simply bring the truth of what it is to the public, and abortion protests itself. For this young man, he went from holding pro-choice beliefs, to being completely against abortion, in under 4 minutes flat. The video may end up saving a life one day.

Orienting Incoming Students on Pre-Born Human Rights

While the mission of Toronto Against Abortion is to make abortion unthinkable throughout all of the GTA, we have a particular focus on university and college campuses. Our volunteer multi-campus activism team is mostly made up of pro-life students from Toronto universities and colleges, and the age demographic (early 20s) is most at risk for abortion. We have campus teams at all universities in the city, and some colleges. Orientation Week is a great opportunity to reach incoming students, and this week we were active sharing the pro-life message across the city.

At York University, TAA’s York Team ran “Choice” Chain during Orientation Day. Our York Team only began activism this past Winter, so this was the first Orientation Week we were present — and we were thrilled with countless conversations and great visibility! We brought a tablet with us, and after showing a video describing a 1st trimester abortion procedure, multiple people changed their minds on abortion became pro-life.

York Orientation Day

At Ryerson University, TAA’s Ryerson Team — denied recognition as an official student group by the student union simply on the basis of our pro-life beliefs — ran “Choice” Chain during campus groups day. While the student union may deny us equal access to table at campus events, we do not need their permission to share the pro-life message on the street. We continue to change hearts and minds on abortion, even leveraging attempted censorship to make the victims seen by more people.

Ryerson campus groups day

At the University of Toronto, where TAA works alongside U of T Students for Life (as well as UTMSFL and UTSCSFL), we made the victims of abortion visible during the Tri-Campus Orientation Week parade, reaching incoming students from U of T, UTM and UTSC. Thousands of people saw the photo evidence of the injustice. We’ll continue to follow up week by week at all three campuses alongside pro-life clubs to dialogue with students.

We also ran “Choice” Chain nearby during the clubs fair.

UofT Clubs Fair

Finally, TAA was on hand to assist at Tyndale University in student-led effort to start a pro-life club on campus. We were thrilled by the number of pro-life students who signed up, and look forward to working with the Tyndale club this year!

Tyndale University

By transforming university campuses, TAA is working to end the killing in Canada by transforming its largest city. Orientation Week is just the start of the semester. We’ll continue to follow up week by week across Toronto campuses, making the victims of abortion visible, and changing hearts and minds one photo and one conversation at a time.

The Streisand Effect and the Abortion Debate

Have you ever heard of the Streisand Effect? The Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective (RRJC) certainly hasn’t. Their attempt to censor the photos we bring to campus of abortion victims only attracts more attention to the injustice of abortion and the inadequacy of the pro-choice position.

The Streisand Effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of attracting even more attention to the information. In 2003, photographer Kenneth Adelman was taking photos of the California coastline, hoping to document coastal erosion. Barabara Streisand got upset that an aerial photograph of her Malibu mansion was published in the collection, so she sued. Before the lawsuit, only six people had downloaded the photo — two of whom were her attorneys. In the month after the lawsuit, the photo was downloaded almost half a million times. Oops.

We see the Streisand Effect all the time in our activism at Ryerson. From Day One, the vocal counterprotests from what has become the RRJC have helped to generate campus media attention and make abortion impossible to ignore at Ryerson. I used to keep track of all media coverage of our activism. After we began activism at Ryerson, it quickly became impossible to keep up. Abortion has gone from a settled issue at Ryerson to one of the most hotly debated topics on campus. This is because we have been running weekly anti-abortion activism, but also thanks to the failed attempts of the RRJC to shut us down and cover up the injustice.

(We’ve seen this at U of T as well, with UTSU’s failed attempt to shut the pro-life message out of the street festival, or with counterprotests at George Brown College.)

The RRJC‘s one move is to try to cover the photos of abortion victims, even ultrasound photos of healthy children. How do you think this looks to passers-by? We hear from Ryerson students all the time, regardless of their views on abortion, who are bothered by the attempts to censor our message and the inability of the RRJC to defend their own position. How could they? The photos are unanswerable. Who will defend doing this to another human being?

Just last week, I heard fellow TAA activist, Brendan, explain to a group of Ryerson students that we were displaying the photos in order to show that decapitating, dismembering and disembowelling a human being is a human rights violation. An RRJC representative nearby, employed by the Ryerson Students’ Union, defended their attempts to cover up our photos. One of the students asked the RRJC representative why they were trying to censor us and block our message instead of responding to us with a message of their own. Another student said that the RRJC does have an implicit message, that people should control their own bodies. I jumped in and agreed, but pointed out that it’s very difficult for the RRJC to make their stance explicit when their stance is that it’s okay to decapitate, dismember and disembowel another human being’s body.

All they can do is cover up the evidence of the bodies being torn apart by abortion. Even ultrasound photos become intolerable.

My Body My Choice vs body of abortion victim

The phrase “my body, my choice” rings hollow next to a photo of another human body brutalized by abortion. Even worse, their sign that says “policing somebody else’s body is violence” looks nothing short of ridiculous next to photographic evidence of the violence that abortion does to the bodies of pre-born children 300 times per day in Canada. From our conversations week by week, it’s clear that many Ryerson students recognize this.

When confronted with the victims of an injustice, it’s been said that we have a choice to be perpetrators, bystanders, or rescuers. Apparently, there’s another choice: we can try to cover it up. That’s not a good look.

Would we rather the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective not try to censor our message? Of course. But their attempt to cover up photos of abortion victims massively backfires against our strategy. Their censorship presents a tactical speed bump. We can leverage their attempted cover up into a win-win situation: if they don’t block us, we reach tons of Ryerson students with the pro-life message; if they do block us, they attract way more attention to the abortion debate than we could ever do alone. Call it the Ryesand Effect? We just keep following up, week by week, reaching more students, making abortion impossible to ignore and changing hearts and minds, one conversation and one photo at a time.