On September 12, members from anti-abortion group University of Toronto Students for Life (UTSFL) and counter-protestors demonstrated at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU)’s Street Fest on the St. George campus.
Beginning at approximately 11 am, UTSFL members were seen holding large signs that appeared to depict aborted fetuses. Members also handed out pamphlets to students.
The counter-protesters — made up of members of Silence is Violence (SIV), UTSU Executive members Anne Boucher and Chimwemwe Alao, and others — responded by standing in front of the UTSFL with signs of their own, including a large banner reading “UofT Feminist Strong.”
Ellie Ade Kur, a campus organizer and founder of the U of T chapter of SIV, was heard telling observers through a megaphone, “This has no place on our campus. This is not who we are,” as well as, “You have the right to access a free and a safe abortion without being made to feel shame by these people, who do not know what they are talking about.”
UTSFL Education Coordinator Blaise Alleyne defended the anti-abortion protest, arguing that “abortion is a human rights violation that ends the life of an innocent human being.”
“We’re here with photos as evidence of that, and to have civil conversation with people about human rights,” said Alleyne. The photos, signs, and pamphlets were provided by anti-abortion groups Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform and Toronto Against Abortion.
According to Alisha Krishna, one of the students demonstrating against the UTSFL, the counter-protest came together on an ad hoc basis.
“We were all motivated by intense compassion for those who are regularly shamed, traumatized and humiliated for something so incredibly private and already emotionally charged,” Krishna wrote in an email to The Varsity. “The students who blocked signs and held banners were there to make our campus a safer space, where one can walk to class without being emotionally assaulted.”
Approximately six Toronto Police Service officers were present at the protest, creating a barrier around members from UTSFL and the counter-protesters with their bicycles.
UTSFL is not a UTSU-recognized club this academic year. According to Alleyne, in the past they have been granted recognition and given a table at the Street Fest. They were not given that opportunity this year.
In an email statement to The Varsity, UTSU President Mathias Memmel wrote UTSFL were not given recognition because the group is “known to aggressively display graphic images of aborted fetuses, which “causes distress to many students, and is frequently experienced as harassment.”
Memmel wrote that the decision to not recognize UTSFL was made by UTSU Vice President of Campus Life Stuart Norton. The decision was upheld in a meeting of the Clubs Committee and the meeting’s minutes were approved by the UTSU Board of Directors.
According to Alleyne, UTSFL is currently in the process of appealing the UTSU’s decision.
Memmel added, “The UTSU does not, as a matter of policy, deny recognition to groups that advocate against abortion” but that “this decision is based entirely on the particular conduct of Students for Life.”
In the past, UTSFL has been funded at least in part by the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU). However, Alleyne told The Varsity that he is unsure of whether that funding will continue while SMCSU is being remodelled.