Since the start of the school year, students and members of the Ryerson University community have faced a continuous and aggressive anti-choice presence on campus. Members of the anti-abortion rights group Right to Life Toronto – equipped with large banners, posters, and pamphlets containing graphic images – have created a hostile environment. They’ve accomplished this by shouting at, filming, and otherwise harassing students, and specifically targeting women who have chosen to have an abortion.
Sadly, this is not an isolated case. Students at the University of British Colombia, York University, University of Toronto, and George Brown College, have also witnessed increased activity of anti-choice hostility.
The actions of these groups on campus have been challenged by progressive activists wherever and whenever they attack.
Universities and colleges must be spaces in which open debates are welcome. However, there is a concern among rights activists that the concepts of academic freedom and free speech have been continuously twisted and abused by those who promote hatred and bigotry. Hate groups have rebranded themselves under a false identity who use progressive language to claim that they are an oppressed minority group. This comes as a reaction to progress and they believe that their voices deserve to be debated with institutional support.
Their language is similar to that used by the Trump campaign in the United States – a type of dog whistle politics that can confuse those who have little understanding of systemic oppression or the historic fight against it. They also confuse liberals by using the words “free speech” without context to distinguish it from hate speech. The more hateful end of the Trump campaign rose on the myth that “political correctness” is undermining academic freedom on campuses and that there exists systemic racism against whites and intolerance against men.
Even though our society has generally resolved that such intolerance and bigotry should be rejected, administrations seem reluctant to stand up against the rise of the new reactionary elements on campuses. In an uncritical effort to appease these hate groups, administrations have prioritized space for “open debates” about the “over use” of political correctness to silence hate.
The renewed tactics of the radical anti-choice movement aligns with this new reactionary politics. The appeasement of university administrators to these actions is not sitting well with socialists and human rights activists on campus. Progressive student unions like the Continuing Education Students' Association of Ryerson (CESAR) have sought to raise the issue of actual (as opposed to perceived) harassment by reactionary groups on campus with the Ryerson University Administration. According to CESAR, it seems that Ryerson and even the current Ryerson Students' Union (RSU) executive refuse to take the issue seriously.
Instead, the administration and the RSU have tried to sweep the issue under the rug. They have taken no action, but have claimed credit for the work of independent student activists fighting for a harassment-free learning environment as cover for their inaction.
In response to this inaction and deceit, the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective penned an open letter about the co-opting of progressive work on the ground by the administration and the current RSU executive.
Recognizing that the false information on abortion rights are based on the larger systematic problem of a lack of access to education, CESAR has put forward a motion at the Canadian Federation of Students' National General Meeting to create a national campaign on sexual education and reproductive justice. The hope is to provide resources and education on rights, including Trans, Racialized, Indigenous, and HIV+ , while respecting their right to choose. In the meantime, the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective is tackling the issue head-on by creating a list of demands to the administration.