By Jonathan Bradley
Toronto police are investigating an alleged assault that was filmed at an anti-choice rally at Ryerson University earlier this month.
On Oct. 1, Gabby Skwarko, a Ryerson student and member of the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective (RRJC), shoved anti-choice protestors at the Gould and Victoria streets intersection.
A video of the incident shows Skwarko approached anti-choice protestors—including Toronto Against Abortion (TAA) members Blaise Alleyne and Katie Somers—who were heatedly debating about abortion with RRJC members on campus.
Skwarko kicked the graphic anti-choice sign Alleyne was holding. She then picked up a small cart and clamp that were on the ground in the middle of the circle of TAA protestors, threw the items at them and started to grab and push Somers. The footage shows that Skwarko then reached into Somers’ backpack, pulled out a metal water bottle and smashed it on the ground. She continued to shove Somers until other people stepped in and separated the two.
“Come on, let’s go!” Skwarko told Somers repeatedly in the video. People in the background told her to “chill out” and “relax.”
Skwarko declined to comment on the incident.
RRJC president Olson Crow also declined to comment.
“It was totally unprovoked,” said Alleyne, assistant leader for TAA’s Ryerson chapter. “Neither Katie or I were speaking with her at all. She just walked up to us calmly and immediately launched into a violent attack.”
The police and paramedics were called to the scene and Somers was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries. She said paramedics were called because she was limping, her wrist was sore and swollen and her right leg had deep bruising.
“I was completely taken by surprise because I didn’t see it coming,” Somers said. “I was initially injured so that immediately caused me to cry out in pain, and when I saw her pick up the metal cart and throw it at me, I became terrified that it might break my teeth, concuss me, or worse.”
Ryerson administration declined to comment on whether or not they’ll be taking any disciplinary action, citing student confidentiality.
TAA posted the video to their YouTube channel. Alleyne told The Eye TAA always films their protests for safety and security reasons because people occasionally target them and their property.
By law, TAA is free to protest on campus streets because they are public property.
The group said they will be pressing charges and plan to launch a civil lawsuit. Toronto police said the investigation is ongoing and no charges have been laid to date.
Ruben Perez, equity and campaigns organizer at the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), said the RSU condemns any and all forms of violence.
“I don’t know what happened or the reason or motive behind the altercation … but violence is never the right way to act,” he said.
No equity centre staff were present at the time, Perez added.
The RSU’s vice-president equity, Karolina Surowiec, echoed Perez in saying the union does not condone violence, adding that she did not think the issue would escalate the way it did.
Surowiec said the RSU executives are drafting a statement and will be discussing what sort of action they will be taking during their meeting on Oct. 16.
Sarah Piper, a first-year new media student, said she is bothered by the signs TAA displays.
“The signs make me physically sick thinking about the disgusting traumatic messages the anti-choice people are sending,” said Piper, who has asked for her name to be changed to protect her identity. “Most days on my commute to school I think about if they’re going to be there, and I get so nervous about it that it makes me not want to go on campus. I am paying to go to this amazing school, and I have earned my right to feel safe on campus.”
Laura Salamanca, a counsellor and advocate at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, explained the complex effects that anti-abortion signs can have on people.
“When there are people out there narrowing down somebody’s experience to this one outcome and then displaying very gory images that don’t accurately represent that, then that can bring up unexplored feelings in a person that can be very traumatizing for them and it can feel very triggering,” she said.
With files from the News Team