Gould street. File photo.

Photo: Izabella Balcerzak

Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective fights back against pro-life protestors

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By Sarah Krichel

In light of the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective’s (RJC) recent open letter, an initiative has been passed at the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) National General Meeting that will ask member locals of the CFS to further support the RJC by writing a letter to Ryerson demanding pro-choice action.

A motion pushed forward by the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) on Nov. 18 asked for campuses to provide more pro-choice campaigns and resources. The amendment, asking member locals to support the RJC, was passed at the CFS National General Meeting on Nov. 21.

“We’re happy the national student movement has supported the work of the Reproductive Justice Collective at Ryerson,” wrote Francis Pineda, vice-president of events for CESAR via email. “CESAR will continue to support the collective’s work on campus. This motion has also started a national conversation and we’re excited to see where it takes us as a movement.”

The motion came as a result of an open letter that was sent from the RJC to Ryerson President Mohamed Lachemi and the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) President Obaid Ullah on Nov. 18.

The letter, which was based on an article published in the Ryersonian, claims that Lachemi and Ullah wrongfully take credit for the action against the reappearing pro-life protesters on Gould Street. The majority of people behind the initiative, according to the letter, are Ryerson community members.

Ryerson student and RJC member Chrissy Lynn Trudel said that students who have been doing the “frontline work” have never received RSU executive support, and that students are being “discredited” for the work they’re doing.

However, the Ryersonian article was not about the student activism on Gould Street, but rather the stewardship rights that Ryerson and the RSU are trying to claim.

For this reason, RSU vice-president equity Tamara Jones said that the letter was “poorly worded” and “false.”

She added that the Ryersonian’s article rightfully gives no credit to the RSU for these efforts. Additionally, the letter quotes Ullah saying that he has had enough of the protesters, despite the fact that he was not quoted in the aforementioned article.

“It was worded in a way that’s meant to elicit a reaction that was very negative,” Jones said.

Pro-life advocates have been on Gould Street multiple times since September, accompanied by signs exhibiting graphic images. In response, Ryerson community members organized counter-protests and covered up the pro-life signs. The RJC said they created the collective, also on Nov. 18, to have a platform for when they released the letter calling out Ryerson and the RSU.

Trudel argued that the RSU is supposed to represent the students, but that hasn’t been the case.

“We felt a real disconnect and that there should have been more working together, but we were completely ignored. So we thought it was really important to get those student voices heard.”

Ullah said that he supports their work. “I’m very aware of the work students have put into this … in no way did I want to discredit them for their work,” he said.

Currently, neither Ryerson security or the RSU can legally remove pro-life advocates from Gould Street, as the property is owned by the City of Toronto. The RSU is working with Ryerson to gain stewardship rights over Gould Street, which would allow Ryerson or the RSU to kick any non-student protesters off the premises. But, as The Eye previously reported, the only solution is to call Toronto police.

The letter states that calling police is “a practice that further criminalizes, triggers and traumatizes students from marginalized communities, rather than protecting and assuring their safety.”

Jones said that she is aware of this situation, but that this is Ryerson’s only choice. “Being a Black woman, I’m very aware of [this]. But the only response on a public street is to call the cops,” Jones said. “If Ryerson security ever stepped out of bounds and did something they weren’t legally supposed to do, I would never condone that—ever.”

Camryn Harlick, a member of the RJC who uses they/them/their pronouns, said that none of the other execs have shown their support. Harlick said they were prepared for the RSU to argue that they have attended the counter-protests, so they timed Jones’ presence. According to Harlick, she was there for six minutes.

“If you don’t have time that’s one thing,” said Harlick, who is also the RyePride coordinator for the RSU. They added that Ullah “didn’t even check in on [his] employees, let alone the student body [he’s] supposed to represent.”

Jones said that she’s been a part of the counter-protesting, but cannot be there everyday due to the fact that the RSU has an obligation to its members. She added that she has gone multiple times, and one occasion stayed for 40 minutes arguing with one of the pro-life demonstrators.

In response to the letter, Lachemi said that he is also seeking a legal opinion. But until these processes have been finalized, there isn’t much the university can do.

Jones said the RSU’s next step is more communication with the pro-life advocates for a resolution.

“[We are going] to see if we can convince them … [to] do it in a way that’s not as disgusting as what they’ve been doing,” Jones said.

Unlike Ryerson, Sheridan and Mohawk colleges have released emails when anti-abortion demonstrators are scheduled to be on campus.

Harlick said that the demonstrations are a form of violence.

“Nothing is being done about it, and to me that really is [why] we have to keep doing this.”

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