Talia Battista is a survivor of sexual assault and abuse, and as she told National Review, while she was an undergraduate student at Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan) in 2017, she found hope in a Facebook post for a campus event called “Self-Healing Through Yoga.” For Battista, it meant the opportunity to connect with other survivors and access a resource for healing. But after attempting to sign up for the event, Battista was disallowed from attending… because of her stance against abortion.
As the Ryerson leader of Toronto Against Abortion, Battista spent time each week in one of the city’s busy intersections, sharing photographic images of aborted children and attempting to converse with people on the issue of abortion. Ryerson Student Union (RSU) employees, according to National Review, sometimes protested Battista’s outreach attempts, even stealing her posters and assaulting her fellow pro-lifers.
More than a decade ago, the RSU decided that pro-life student groups would not be granted official status, barring such groups from using university spaces and resources. RSU employees were well aware of Battista’s pro-life views, and at one RSU-led event meant to bring together “students from different marginalized backgrounds,” the RSU leaders asked Battista (who is biracial) to leave.
Emails and transcripts obtained by NR revealed that student union leader and employee, @CourageousCorey, decided it was "not appropriate" for the student, Talia Battista, to attend because of her pro-life beliefs. pic.twitter.com/Zk04TYu5LX
— Ari Blaff (@ariblaff) May 30, 2023
Tamara Jones, the union’s vice president of equity, later told Battista that RSU has “a pro-choice stance, and a lot of the people in this space kinda feel targeted.” She was instructed to seek permission before attending another RSU-led event and was the only person who had to follow that rule.
So when she saw the “Self-Healing Through Yoga” event, that’s exactly what she did. Battista approached the event’s organizers about attending and was told she could not.
“After talking to the coordinators, we have decided that it is not appropriate for you to attend,” RSU’s equity and campaigns organizer, Corey Scott, emailed Battista three days before the yoga event. Scott informed her that she would be prohibited from “all six equity services” because her mere presence would be “an act of continuing … violence and … trauma.”
Scott quickly followed up his initial email with another that said he had barred her “prematurely” and he was “waiting to hear back from our partners within the university.” National Review reported:
Emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request later revealed that Scott had messaged Farrah Khan, then a senior Ryerson employee working in the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education, minutes before to ask for guidance on the matter. Khan was a campus administrator responsible for helping sexual-assault survivors access a host of services.
“I do feel worried about letting this person access a space that they might make people feel unwelcomed or uncomfortable. They know that they are not allowed to spew anti-choice and anti-women rhetoric in the spaces but we cannot be confident that the rule will be followed and if her presence alone is enough to disrupt and make the space unsafe,” Scott wrote to Khan shortly before initially banning Battista.
Ultimately, Battista said she was told she could attend, but if she did, RSU staff would boycott the event. Battista decided not to go.
She said, “There was a long period of time where I was suicidal. And reading that email, I think if I didn’t have friends who cared, who were checking in with me, I probably would’ve gone back to self-harm. I was fortunate enough that when I was denied resources at the student union, I had people in my life. I picked up the phone and called a friend who made sure I was somewhere safe.”
After speaking with Carol Crosson, founder of Rights and Freedoms Advocate, a legal group focused on defending religious freedoms, Battista decided to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
“My case is not about how ‘pro-lifers’ are treated at Ryerson: it is about whether those in power — student union staff and university administration — should be able to discriminate against those whose beliefs they disagree with,” Battista told National Review. “I hope my case not only encourages the university to treat all students equally, but also encourages other students who hold minority beliefs to stay true to their faith.”
It would be two years before the Tribunal would hear Battista’s case, but ultimately in January it determined that Battista’s “pro-life belief system constitutes a creed for the purposes of the [Ontario Human Rights] Code.” A legal battle with Ryerson and the RSU was now on the horizon.
“This decision is an unprecedented victory,” said Battista’s attorney Garifalia Milousis, who succeeded Crosson after her death, two weeks before the ruling. “For years, pro-life individuals have tried to explain to an increasingly dismissive society that their views are not simply expressions of personal preference or individual whim.”
“To finally have a decision from the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal recognize this fact — recognize that the pro-life worldview is a ‘creed,’” the attorney said, “is truly precedent-setting and ground-breaking.” The decision brought hope for Battista regarding future pro-life students on campus.
Still, abortion advocates at Ryerson University have made headlines in the past. According to Canada’s Global News,-23-year-old Gabriela Skwarko turned herself into police in 2019 after she was “charged with assault and assault with a weapon” following an attack on pro-lifers. Skwarko was reportedly a member of the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective.
“We would like the violence against peaceful pro-life protests to stop, but more than anything we would like the violence to pre-born children to stop,” said assault victim Katie Somers at the time. “And despite this attack, we will continue to fight for pre-born children until abortion is unthinkable.”
Editor’s Note: Learn more at DefendTalia.com.