Activists and concerned residents gathered at the Annex park to speak out against a rash of sexual assaults in the area.
The women of Toronto have had enough of feeling unsafe on their streets.
That was the overarching message at the rally and march that took place in and around Christie Pits Park on Monday evening. The protest was a response to a series of sexual assaults—10 reported attacks in the last two months—that have taken place in the Annex, all suspected to be the work of one man.
The rally was the brainchild of local resident Liz Brockest.
“It was a really gut reaction,” she said. “I felt like something had to be done. On the spur of the moment, I created a Facebook event. My intention was just have a small community meeting where we could strategize around things that could happen, but this community is angry, and this community is not going to tolerate violence. So this is where we are now.”
“Where we are now” was a rally with roughly 300 people—mostly women, but with a sizeable contingent of men, as well—listening to speeches from Anna Willats and Deb Singh of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre. Willats decried the attacks, saying they are a result of a larger rape culture. Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo touched on a related point when she described attending a similar march 45 years ago and said that change was long overdue. Area councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) was also on hand, and called on his fellow men to stand up against violence against women. He added that he was pleased to see so many people coming to speak out against violence in their neighbourhood.
“This is about a community coming out and saying, ‘You know what? We’re a community that cares about one another,’” he said. “It’s about people stepping up when something is threatening their community…. It’s important for us to say, ‘This is a safe community,’ and to get eyes out on the streets to keep it that way.”
Longtime activist Farrah Khan helped Brockest organize the event. She said that the rally wasn’t just about taking back the streets. It was also meant to create a broader dialogue around consent, and to advocate for support services.
“We want to have a real dialogue around support services, both for victims and for the perpetrators of violence,” she said. “And we want to remind governments to stop cutting those services.”
Brockest said that she was pleased with the turnout, and attributed it in part to a collective anger following a summer that has been marred by a number of high-profile sexual assaults across the city.
“There’s just been so many,” she said. “We’re hearing about them at Queen and Sherbourne, at Parliament and Gerrard. There was a series of attacks up at York University; there were some in Kensington Market that they believe may be connected to [the Annex attacks]. It’s just been so much.”
She added that while the rally was specifically about the attacks in the area surrounding Christie Pits, she hoped it would cause people to speak out against violence against women as a whole.
“Right now, we’re fighting against stranger assaults, but most assaults happen in homes and are done by people we know,” she said. “We want to draw attention to that, too.”