As of March 16, a U of T student is facing charges for allegedly taking and damaging two signs belonging to Toronto Against Abortion (TAA) — an organization with teams on nearly all Toronto university campuses that, according to their website, seeks “to engage Toronto on the injustice of abortion.”
In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson confirmed that “an off-campus incident,” which is currently under investigation by TPS, occurred on City of Toronto property outside the Galbraith Building that day.
The week of March 13, TAA held a week of action at UTSG.
The U of T student, who requested anonymity given the active case against them, was walking to their class in the Galbraith Building on the afternoon of March 16 when they ran into a group of TAA protestors. The student allegedly took and broke one of the protestors’ signs.
Later that afternoon, TAA protestors stood outside Sidney Smith. Once informed of TAA’s presence, UofT Students for Choice deployed a ‘rapid response team’ to cover up the signs, which Avreet Jagdev, president and founder of UofT Students for Choice, described as “graphic.” UofT Students for Choice is a student group that advocates “for an individual’s right to make autonomous decisions about their own body,” according to the Student Organizational Portal.
Around this time, the student was in the area and encountered the TAA protestors again. The student allegedly took a second sign from the protestors, folded it, and then handed it back to TAA. TAA called TPS and U of T Campus Safety.
Following this incident, the student left Sidney Smith and walked toward the Galbraith Building. Several eyewitnesses told The Varsity that TAA protestors followed and recorded the student as they walked from Sidney Smith, through the Galbraith Building, and into Sandford Fleming. When the student had reached the Sandford Fleming Atrium, the student told The Varsity that the TAA members refused to leave. Then, the student called campus security to try and get the TAA members to stop following and filming them.
Two members of UofT Students for Choice, including Jagdev, remained in contact with the student as the TAA members followed them and went to the Sandford Fleming building to make sure the student was safe. The UofT Students for Choice members were present when Campus Safety and TPS arrived.
Upon arrival, Campus Safety and TPS spoke to the TAA protestors, and other students present about what had happened. TPS took the student to a separate room to speak to them about the situation.
According to TPS media relations, TPS then charged the student with Theft Under $5,000 and Mischief Under $5,000. Eyewitnesses confirmed to The Varsity that TPS did not detain the student. The student must go to the police station for fingerprints on April 21 and attend court on April 28.
Nora Ahmadi — a director of events and community engagement at UofT Students for Choice and the accessibility and equity advisor of the Prevention, Empowerment, Advocacy, Response, for Survivors (PEARS) project — told The Varsity that she asked Campus Safety and TPS whether or not TAA protestors following and recording the student constituted harassment. Ahmadi claimed that a person from Campus Safety told her that these actions did constitute harassment. However, TPS officers on the scene told Ahmadi that the TAA protestors’ actions did not constitute harassment because the incident was isolated.
Blaise Alleyne founded TAA in 2016, three years after he established University of Toronto Students For Life. In an interview with The Varsity, Alleyne said that TAA’s members generally engage in peaceful and civil dialogue at U of T, but have called the police in the past. He alleged that an individual — who was not a student — assaulted the president of U of T Students For Life in September 2018, and, in October 2019, a student stole and damaged one of their signs, receiving charges for mischief and assault.
In a follow-up email, Alleyne added that the group engages in civil litigation when necessary to seek justice.
Many TAA organizers are not students. Alleyne wrote that 20 per cent of the organizers present on March 16 were paid staff members, while the rest were volunteers.
With files from Marta Anielska and Nawa Tahir.