Councillor Sarah Doucette is fighting back against the young anti-abortion protesters who’ve taken to the streets of Toronto.

Anti-abortion activists have ramped up signage in some of Toronto's high-traffic intersections. Here, activists hand out flyers on Wednesday at the corners of Yonge St. and St Clair Ave.
Anti-abortion activists have ramped up signage in some of Toronto’s high-traffic intersections. Here, activists hand out flyers on Wednesday at the corners of Yonge St. and St Clair Ave.  (RANDY RISLING / TORONTO STAR) | ORDER THIS PHOTO  

As Toronto’s increasingly young anti-abortion movement ramps up its graphic on-street displays, at least one city councillor is fighting back.

On Saturday, Councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park) joined concerned families in her neighbourhood of Swansea to counter-protest against what she calls “vulgar” signs imposed on people in her community against their will.

After neighbourhood residents filed complaints with Toronto police about those carrying graphic billboards in their busiest intersections, they were told protesters weren’t breaking any laws.

So long as they don’t block traffic or harass people, the posters aren’t technically illegal.

Now Doucette, after talking to police several times, is taking her cause to city council to pass a bylaw that ban these types of signs.

The group calls itself the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform. With an office in Mississauga, it hired 19 high school and university “interns” this summer to spend four months spreading its message on street corners.

In Calgary (home to the group’s other office), bylaws like the one Doucette hopes this city will pass have already been enacted.

“We’re not stopping them from standing on the street, talking to people or handing out flyers, but we’re just stopping them being in people’s faces. You really cannot get away from them. That’s where people are feeling it is harassment,” said Doucette, who insists they are a distraction to drivers.

Parents in the Swansea area use a Facebook group to warn each other about the whereabouts of the signs.

Sometimes, police will visit the protesters to tell them not to harass people. But that’s difficult when they frequently change intersections.

“I don’t think anyone is against freedom of speech,” Doucette said. “Women find them very upsetting if you have lost a baby, this is very hard to see these sorts of images. Residents are just saying to me, ‘We don’t want to be going about our day-to-day lives and be confronted with these giant images.’”

The protests target busy intersections during Toronto’s lunch-hour rush, leaning over their chest-high posters as crowds of people — and children — impatiently wait to cross the street.

On Wednesday, nearly a dozen of the group’s interns stood on both of the south corners at Yonge St. and St. Clair Ave.

Many stopped to argue with the protesters. Others shielded their children’s eyes or shut the front of their strollers. Some yelled at them to turn their boards around, or stopped their cars at red lights to yell profanities about the vulgarity of the images. While most bypassed them or ignored their handouts, some stopped to talk to them.

“If you’re going to argue that this is a person, you can’t treat them like an object in the image,” said Sarah Hamilton, who is anti-abortion but still stopped to argue with the protesters over their tactics.

“Using their image to display is objectifying them.”

The protesters call abortion a human rights violation and claim “300 children are dismembered, decapitated and disemboweled” every day in Canada. They are ultra-polite in the face of anger and tell passersbys that if the images offend them, that they should be offended by abortion — not the signs.

“I think it’s a lot worse to bring a child into the world that’s going to be unloved than to not bring it into the world,” said Shoshana Abramovitz, who stopped for nearly half an hour to talk with one of the protesters. “You should have the right to choose. It’s pretty hard (to look at).”

On Wednesday, 22-year-old Oriyana Hrychyshyn was in charge of the interns and stood behind a sign of her own. The night before, on a phone call, her boss Devorah Gilman was reciting the same lines.

“We want to put an end to abortion in our country,” Hrychyshyn said. “They’ve been trained to go out day-in-day-out on the street and expose the realty of abortion and what it does to pre-born children.”

They are backed by Westminster Chapel at High Park’s senior pastor Rev. Joseph Boot, who calls the group one of Canada’s “most important educational organizations” and says they are re-educating the country on “the true nature of this hidden atrocity.”

But Kathi Ziolkowski said the group doesn’t represent Christian values. She is a 47-year-old mother of two who grew up in a deeply religious family, and has tried to explain to the protesters the impact of their images on her community.

“If they did want people to understand the sanctity of life, that might not be the way that’s going to win people over,” she said. “Maybe if there were other ways, rather than trying to use shock and sensationalism, they might be more successful.”

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/08/23/torontos-anti-abortion-protests-grow-as-city-councilor-moves-to-make-vulgar-signs-illegal.html