UPDATE: Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective is unhappy with the university

Jaclyn Tansil

Allan Perkins

 

The Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective (RRJC) says the university should do more to keep pro-life protesters off campus.
“The university does not necessarily care about what students want or need but instead what directly benefits (the administration),” said Camryn Harlick, the co-founder of the RRJC, a pro-choice student group, and vice-president equity-elect of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU).

Harlick was discouraged by the response of Ryerson’s vice-provost students, Heather Lane Vetere, to the RRJC’s demands made at a town hall meeting Monday night.

At the meeting, the RRJC called for the university to take action against pro-life demonstrators. The protesters’ signs and posters display graphic content of aborted fetuses — which one student compared to pornography. The RRJC’s growing concerns for the overall safety of Ryerson students was one reason why they want the demonstrators removed from campus.

“I was, as always, typically disappointed by the university, especially Heather Lane Vetere’s response tonight as I feel that there was a problem with listening to students … there usually is when working with the university,” Harlick said.

Vetere, who was speaking on behalf of the university at the meeting, reaffirmed the university’s position that Ryerson is unable to prevent pro-life protesters from demonstrating on Gould Street. She said that it isn’t a question of values that factors into this decision, but a matter of law. Vetere also added she isn’t prepared to lose her job over this issue.

“One thing that is really important that I wanted to say to you is that you and I, I as an individual, Heather, am not ideologically opposed on this issue. I do not suspect that any of my university colleagues that are here with me are ideologically opposed on this issue with you either. But that does not change the fact that we cannot do what you are asking for and we cannot make them go away,” Vetere said.

This town hall comes three weeks after Ryerson administration agreed at a roundtable discussion on Jan. 23 to sit down with representatives from the RRJC, RSU, and the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR).

“My money is now in the Ryerson pool because I trusted this institution to provide a safer space than the last university I attended,” said Claire Davis, an environment and urban sustainability student. “I should never have to fear attending class or work because of the possibility I might feel vulnerable, triggered or unsafe on campus because of these protesters.” 

Vetere was speaking on behalf of the university at the meeting. She reaffirmed the university’s position from a Jan. 23 roundtable discussion with the RRJC in which members of the RSU and Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) were also in attendance. Vetere said Ryerson is not able to prevent pro-life protesters from demonstrating on Gould Street, saying that it isn’t a question of values that factors into this decision, but is a matter of law.

“One thing that is really important that I wanted to say to you is that you and I, I as an individual, Heather, am not ideologically opposed on this issue, I do not suspect that any of my university colleagues that are here with me, are ideologically opposed on this issue with you either. But that does not change the fact that we cannot do what you are asking for and we cannot make them go away,” Vetere said.

The RRJC was also disappointed in president Mohamed Lachemi’s absence from the meeting. One person in attendance even called it “shameful.”
Vetere said the university is focused on providing support through its counselling centres.

The RRJC said that in addition to bothering students with their graphic images, the signs also may make some people feel unsafe. One continuing education student, who did not want their name mentioned, made a comparison between the graphic images displayed on pro-life signs to pornography in terms of their explicitness.

“(Ryerson) can’t practise censorship related to speech or activities that don’t contravene the law, no matter how much this speech offends us or causes us anguish,” Vetere said. “Ultimately while this may feel like a fight with the university, this fight is with a much more organized and legally protected group.”

The next RRJC meeting is on Feb. 27 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The location is yet to be determined.

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