A group of counter-protesters in Toronto is making a name for themselves for vowing to shut down controversial anti-abortion demonstrators.
The Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective was started in September, after ‘anti-choice’ protesters were set up carrying graphic images and dispersing equally disturbing material on the corner of Gould and Victoria streets, across the street from the university’s library.
“We immediately took to the streets and created our own signs, just to cover up some of graphic imagery that was triggering some of our students,” said Camryn Harlick, Co-founder of the group. “We automatically mobilized those students to cover those signs, and we saw that every week after that they continued to keep coming.”
Photos of the counter-protest can be seen below:
The group of counter-protesters are students at the university, and some of the posters they have read “policing someone else’s body is violence” and “mind your own body,” used to cover up the graphic images which show aborted fetus.
“Typically they come every week,” Harlick explained. “If one of us see them just walking to class or work, we’ll post on our Facebook page that we need bodies now.”
A little under a dozen counter-protesters usually respond to those calls, but Harlick says at times they do get confrontational.
The anti-abortion protesters, who according to Harlick are from the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (CCBR), are allowed to demonstrate just steps away from the students because the street isn’t considered the university’s property. But Harlick says they have reached out to the Student’s Union and the University to get that changed.
“We also released a list of demands to our admin, which consisted of things like working harder to get these folks off our campus considering most of them aren’t students and they’re triggering our students to not be able to go to class,” they said.
These counter protesters exist beyond Ryerson, as groups across the GTA are mobilising to stand against organizations like the CCBR and Show the Truth, an Ontario-based group that says it is well aware that the images are graphic.
“We believe it’s a very valuable way to show our stance about abortions in just a few seconds,” said Rachel, a spokesperson with Show the Truth. “The reason we use the graphic images is truly to reveal the procedure itself and what it does to the unborn.”
Controversy has surrounded the images not just because of they are gory, but because pro-life groups say they’re inaccurate. Rachel says their photographs have been confirmed, and they have a similar stance as CCBR, in how they deliver their messages. Both groups use the images during protests, and have them on flyers mailed to homes.
CityNews has received several emails from viewers concerned about these visual protests happening throughout the GTA and graphic anti-abortion flyers they are receiving in their mail boxes.
“It is fair to be upset and appalled and disturbed by them, and that really is the purpose, to be disturbed by abortion,” Rachel explains. “We also get a lot of positive reactions, and there are reactions that (say) ‘I was repulsed, I was disgusted, and you really did change my mind.'”
Show the Truth has had its demonstrations disrupted by counter-protests several times.
“It can be frustrating when we’re trying to speak out about the issue and others are trying to shield our message,” said Rachel. “We feel that it’s our right to speak out about this and get the conversation going about what our tax dollars go to funding on a daily basis.”
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One organization wants to change how anti-abortion groups market their messages. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has taken a stance against the tactics groups like CCBR and Show the Truth have used.
“Prochoice is stronger in Canada more than ever,” said Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. “People don’t want to debate the issue again or recriminalize it.”
Arthur released an article on Tuesday that touched on the need to take action against graphic images released to the public.
She applauds two Canadian cities for implementing laws regarding anti-abortion material. Calgary passed two bylaws, one that “prohibits the delivery of non-commercial flyers to homes” and another that bans banners hung from the highway overpass. Hamilton also has the banner bylaw in effect.
The group is asking provinces to pass laws prohibiting these graphic images to be distributed to residential homes and advertised in public spaces, and is hoping Ontario will be first to do so.
“We have to look at the province to create some sort of civil law,” said Arthur. “It might be an amendment to an existing law where it fits in somewhere.”
Arthur is applauding groups like Harlick for taking a stand against the graphic image, both say these tactics aren’t to silence the other side.
‘You can have a meaningful dialogue but you don’t need those graphic imagery to purposely trigger and shame students who’ve had abortions,” said Harlick.
CityNews reached out to CCBR but did not hear back in time for broadcast.