Councillors grapple with gruesome anti-abortion pamphlets

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Councillors grapple with gruesome anti-abortion pamphlets

At a public meeting, anti-choice activists clashed with upset residents.

Lawmakers convened the public meeting after receiving complaints from residents. Photo by Marina Tyszkiewicz.

Graphic anti-abortion pamphlets depicting dead fetuses are making their way into residential mailboxes and across city streets. The flyers are prompting a trio of lawmakers to take action.

City councillors Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth) and Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth) and TDSB trustee Jennifer Story are organized a petition and public meeting, calling for the Wynne government to ban the grisly images.

A community meeting at the Ralph Thornton Community Centre saw anti-choice activists also in attendance, resulting in a confrontation between those who distribute the controversial materials and those seeking to ban it.

Susan Ruskain, a resident of Toronto-Danforth who attended the meeting, says she filed an immediate complaint with her city councillor after receiving a pamphlet in the mail three weeks ago. “It was a pamphlet that folded over. Inside was a picture of a fetus that had been ripped apart. My daughter was there as well. We were equally horrified by it,” she says.

Similar images have been spotted on banners and placards along Lake Shore Boulevard and major intersections across the GTA. Anti-choice protesters have also been spotted picketing on street corners and near high schools and universities.

Ruskain says the images that are presented seem “biologically incorrect” and says she is also alarmed by the protests taking place on city sidewalks. “I’ve seen them on the streets and it shocks me how young the [protesters] are,” she says.

The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, the organization behind the pamphlets and protest, say most of their literature is delivered by a combination of interns, staff, and volunteers, who are typically young people between the ages of 18 and 30.

Fletcher told the meeting that while she respects the group’s freedom to protest, she does not support the use of graphic imagery. “It is the graphic images that have no place for discourse. Any operation that you have is going to be gory … But I don’t think it’s fair to label women as killers.” She said the purpose of the meeting was to determine how best to respond to the images.

Councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park) says residents in Parkdale have reported posters “shoved in their faces” by protesters on street corners, holding graphic signs “reaching up to their necks,” and pushing flyers onto people.

Toronto Police have not laid any charges.

Calgary banned anti-abortion displays and pamphlets after similar concerns were raised. Cities like Hamilton are receiving similar complaints from residents.

In an emailed statement, internship director Devorah Gilman said that any ban would be an infringement on freedom of speech.

“Such a bylaw would be unconstitutional. Any legislation that restricts our right to freedom of speech and violates our Charter rights would be immediately challenged in court of law,” she wrote.

The CCBR continues to defend the controversial practice, casting it as an effective strategy. “We have commissioned independent pollsters to test our results, and found that abortion victim photography dramatically changes the way people think about abortion, and we have been privileged to see many women cancel their abortions,” wrote Gilman.

The group has been active in Toronto for nearly three years, but residents and city councillors say they have recently seen an increase in the number of flyers being distributed.

As the lawmakers debate their next move, Parkdale residents are organizing counter-protests, gathering at the same spots as the anti-abortion protesters, holding balloons, blowing bubbles, and holding signs that read, “No more images.”

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