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 using threatening language (“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.

Why do we continue in the face of violent opposition?

There is no doubt that any controversial issue brings with it a certain amount of opposition, and the abortion debate is no different. When we bring our message to the public, and especially when working with our campus teams at universities and colleges across Toronto, it is not uncommon for people to come out and try to block our photos or conversations. We are used to it. However, despite our consistent peaceful and civil approach, our team members have faced significant verbal assault, theft and damage to our property and sometimes, things have even gotten physical.

Why then, would we continue? It’s because of the amazing conversations that we have with people, the hearts and minds that we see change every day. Sometimes the effect we have is far greater than we could ever imagine.

The day of my own assault, I was approached by a young man at Ryerson. I asked him what he thought about abortion, and he told me that he used to be pro-choice. I asked him what changed his mind. He said, “I reflected on the images that you guys bring here. It really doesn’t look like just a clump of cells. And besides, you are just a clump of cells, I am just a clump of cells. But more than that, the images made me change my behaviour. Women think they need safe and legal abortion, but what they really need is for men not to treat them like objects. It is unfair for me to treat a woman like an object and expect her to just go get an abortion. So my contribution to lowering abortion is that I’ve changed my behaviour, I no longer treat women that way.

This young man’s life was changed because he passed by our signs on the street. And his changing his behaviour will have a positive impact on the women in his life as well. Just this one mind changed will have a positive ripple effect on many, all the way down to possibly even sparing a pre-born child from a violent fate.

Our photos simply show what abortion looks like. It is up to each person to take from it what they will. The conversations like this one, that I was lucky enough for this young man to share with me, are what keep me going, they’re what keep our team going, and until abortion is unthinkable, we will do just that. Lives depend on it.

Pro-Choice Violence at Ryerson: Gabriela (Gabby) Skwarko

On Monday, October 1, two Toronto Against Abortion team members were attacked while engaging in civil discussion about abortion with pro-choice counterprotesters at Ryerson.

Gabby Skwarko, a member of the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective and last year’s Faculty of Arts Director at the Ryerson Students Union, approached Blaise Alleyne and Katie Somers from behind and launched into an attack on them and their property. Another member of the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective attempted to block one of the cameras from filming the attack.

Police and EMS were called. Katie Somers suffered injury, including bruising to her leg. A police investigation is open, but charges have not yet been laid.

Free speech is under serious threat in Ontario, and especially at Ryerson, where people are being assaulted for peacefully and civilly sharing their beliefs. While we are always peaceful and civil, we face violence and illegal activity often at Ryerson. This is one of many incidents our Ryerson Team has had to endure over the past two years from the student unions and the Reproductive Justice Collective.

We continue to reach more and more people in the Ryerson community with the pro-life message every week, despite attempts by the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective to censor and stop us through assaults and thefts. Hearts and minds are being changed on abortion at Ryerson every week, and our team is growing. We will not be intimidated by violence. Pro-choice violence is a desperate attempt to slow our momentum, and the pro-choice violence we face is nothing compared to the pro-choice violence that pre-born children face in abortion.

Blaise Alleyne and Katie Somers are both available for comment by email or phone:
blaise@torontoagainstabortion.org
katie@torontoagainstabortion.org
647-478-6309

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.

Respecting the Bodily Autonomy of Every Human Being

The Canadian Federation of Students has a pamphlet that members of the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective have started handing out at Ryerson.

CONSENT IS MANDATORY

CONSENT IS RESPECTING BODILY AUTONOMY

RESPECTING BODILY AUTONOMY IS SUPPORTING REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE

The inside says that reproductive justice includes the ability to “terminate a pregnancy.”

Consent is mandatory? Consent is respecting bodily autonomy? No objection here.

Respecting bodily autonomy is supporting reproductive justice? Reproductive justice includes the ability to terminate a pregnancy? What about the bodily autonomy of the child?

This is why we show photo evidence of the violence that abortion does to the bodies of pre-born children. Abortion is an act of violence that destroys the body of an innocent human being.

And this is why the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective attempts to cover up the injustice. Once you see the second body that has been destroyed by an abortion, the view that respecting bodily autonomy includes the ability to terminate a pregnancy is obviously false.

Yes, we have a right to control our own bodies. Does that include a right to assault somebody else? Our right to control our own body ends at someone else’s body. A right to bodily autonomy does not include a right to assault somebody else.

We see related slogans at Ryerson and George Brown College, like “Mind your own *^$%ing body” and “Policing someone else’s body is violence,” which also ring hollow next to the photos they’re trying to cover up of children’s bodies destroyed by abortion. Isn’t decapitating, dismembering and disembowelling someone else’s body violence?

No wonder they don’t want anyone to see the photos.