FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Gabriela Skwarko, a pro-choice activist who was arrested for assaulting two pro-life demonstrators at Ryerson University in October 2018, has been sued for $23,000 in damages, along with the Ryerson Students’ Union.
“I respect people with different opinions in society and I believe civil discourse is the way to resolve our differences,” said Somers. “I’m disappointed that Ms. Skwarko resorted to violence and caused us harm in this way. It’s shaken my faith in humanity.” Somers suffered physical injury and was diagnosed with PTSD from the attack, and had to take time away from her job to recover.
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), the former student union at Ryerson University, is also named in the claim. The Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective (RRJC) operates under the umbrella of the RSU. The RRJC has a history of escalating criminal behaviour and violence leading up to the assault by RRJC member, Gabriela Skwarko. Another member of the RRJC attempted to block Gabriela from being filmed during the assault. The RSU is named in the lawsuit for failing to curtail escalating violence and criminal activity among their volunteers, turning a blind eye as the RRJC has celebrated and cultivated a culture of criminal behaviour.
Despite having pled guilty to assault in criminal court, Gabriela Skwarko has denied allegations of assault or battery in the civil lawsuit. Although she is still currently serving her probation sentence, and expressed remorse for her actions in both the Ryerson University and criminal justice system sentencing process, Skwarko now claims in her Defence that she is guilty of no wrongdoing.
“We wish we didn’t have to deal with this,” said Alleyne, who is a part-time student at Ryerson University. “However, with the seriousness of the assault, we’re simply seeking to recover the damages suffered. We hope to never have to deal with this kind of senseless violence in the face of peaceful and civil discourse again.”
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.
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.
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 while incidents were in progress.
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.
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.
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.