Cools, Anne

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Anne Cools



Anne Cools made Canadian history in 1984 when she became the first black ever to serve in her country's Senate, the upper house of parliament. Senators are appointed positions of immense prestige, but restricted political power, that can be held until the seat holder reaches the age of 75. As senator of the province of Ontario, Cools has become somewhat infamous in Canada for her conservative social values, which often put her at odds with her original party, the Liberals. In 2004, she "crossed the floor" of the Senate's historic Red Chamber and joined the Conservative (Tory) Party.

Cools is a naturalized citizen of Canada who came to the country from her native Barbados when she was 13 years old. She was born on the Caribbean island, a British colonial possession in the West Indies, on August 12, 1943, and grew up in a household that valued education and political service; both a grandfather and her uncle were active in the political life on the island. Her father was a pharmacist. Her family's relatively high standard of living and level of education did not protect Cools from growing up without suffering tragedy. When Cools was four years old, two of her five siblings—the next oldest and next youngest to her—died from peritonitis, an inflammation of the stomach cavity that can prove fatal if infection takes hold.

Jailed After Protest

Cools's earliest education took place at private schools in Barbados, but after her family settled in the Quebec city of Montreal, Canada, in 1957, she attended Thomas D'Arcy McGee High School. She went on to Montreal's McGill University as sociology and psychology major, becoming a social worker after she earned her degree. Active in the student's rights and anti-Vietnam War protests of the era, she took part in a sit-in event at Sir George Williams University, a school in Montreal that was later renamed Concordia University, in February of 1969. West Indian student groups had accused the school's administration of racial bias, and a group of nearly 100 black and white protesters and students occupied a building that housed the school's computer center. After a two-week standoff, the university computers were vandalized, which prompted police to storm the building and make dozens of arrests. Though the damage took place in a different room from the one Cools occupied, she was one of eight black protesters found guilty by a court and served four months in prison.

In 1974, Cools moved to Toronto, Canada's largest city and one with a growing West Indian population at the time. She took a job as executive director of Women in Transition Inc., one of the first shelters for victims of domestic violence in the country. The shelter was struggling financially when she took over, and "the first thing I had to do was persuade the staff to continue working in order to keep the place alive," Cools recalled in an interview with Chatelaine journalist Donna Laframboise. They accepted her proposal to work without paychecks for six months until new sources of funding were found, and the shelter soon regained its footing. Demand was so high for its services that Cools also found funding and won board approval to open a second shelter in 1987.

During this period Cools was also teaching sociology part-time at various area colleges, including the University of Toronto and Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. She also became active in the Liberal Party of Canada, the more left-leaning of the two main political parties that dominated the national political scene. In 1978, she attempted to win a seat in the Canadian House of Commons, the lower house of parliament, in a by-election to fill the seat for the riding, or electoral district, of Rosedale in Toronto. Uneasy with the relatively new concept of both a woman and a person of color representing a largely white area known as Toronto's wealthiest neighborhood, local Liberal Party leaders threw their support to a white male candidate instead. In two subsequent general elections, however, Cools won party support for her candidacy in 1979 and 1980 general elections, but failed to win the Rosedale seat. In that 1980 election, however, the Liberal Party returned to power with a majority in the House of Commons, and the new government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau appointed Cools to serve on the National Parole Board of Canada.

Appointed to the Senate

In 1984, Trudeau submitted Cools's name to the Governor-General of Canada as the next senator from Ontario. Canada's Senate is an appointed one, and though it does not possess the same level of legislative power as its parliamentary counterpart, the House of Commons, it does vote on legislation, represents the interests of the provinces in the federal government, and also serves as a deliberative body. Its 105 members are appointed by the Governor-General, who represents the British monarch in Canada's executive branch. The senators may remain in office until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 75. Cools made history in Canada as the first black ever to be appointed to the body.

Cools was a member of the opposition in the Senate from 1984, when the Progressive Conservative Party returned to power after in legislative elections that year, until 1993, when a new Liberal government was installed with party leader Jean Chrétien as prime minister. She became somewhat infamous for her long, digressive speeches, which quoted from sources that ranged from Sigmund Freud, the founder of modern psychiatry, to nineteenth-century British novelist Charles Dickens. In March of 1995, she delivered a speech on International Women's Day in which she reflected upon the causes of violence against women and children in society, and stated that "Behind every abusing husband is an abusing mother," according to Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

At a Glance …

Born Anne Clare Cools on August 12, 1943, in Barbados, British West Indies; daughter of Lucius Unique (a pharmacist) and Rosita Gordon Miller (a homemaker) Cools; married Rolf Calhoun (a business consultant), 1986. Education: McGill University, Montreal, BA. Politics: Conservative Party of Canada. Religion: Anglican Church.

Career: Montreal, Quebec, social worker, late 1960s; Women in Transition Inc., executive director, 1974-85; Women in Transition Inc., special projects manager, 1985-90; University of Toronto, field instructor in sociology, 1977-78; Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, field instructor in sociology, 1978-80; Seneca College, field instructor in sociology, 1977-89; National Parole Board of Canada, appointed member, 1980; Senate of Canada, appointed senator, 1984, Liberal Party senator, 1984-2004; Conservative (Tory) Party of Canada, senator, 2004-07; Independent senator, 2007-.

Memberships: Royal Canadian Heritage Trust, board member; Metro Toronto Social Planning Council, board member; Metro Toronto Justice Committee on Spousal Abuse, board member; Black Theatre Canada, board member; Black Education Project, board member.

Addresses: Office—178-F, Centre Block, The Senate of Canada, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A4, Canada.

Cools's words caused an outcry in Canada, stirred by women's rights organizations and played out in the media. With her solid, professional background in domestic-violence issues, Cools defended herself in two lengthy Senate speeches later that month. In each, she cited reams of recent data on the probability of male children from single-parent homes becoming abusers later in life, and also noted the overall results from child maltreatment cases investigated by social-service agencies. When abuse or neglect occurred, children carried that legacy into adulthood, she argued. "The impact of family aggression on these little people, little boys and girls, is immeasurable," she told her colleagues in the Senate, according to the text of a speech reprinted on her Web site. "The panic, fear and anxiety that awakens in their heads, minds, and bodies eludes most of us. Absolute terror grips them…. As these little people's undeveloped psychological systems are strained, as their nerve endings are eroded by behaviours they cannot comprehend or control, the damage is inflicted by uncaring or uncontrolled large persons who tower over them."

Challenged Party Line

Cools became the focus of another controversy that endured as a legislative battle for more than three years. In May of 1996, Canada's Justice Minister submitted to parliament several proposed changes to the federal package of laws known as the Divorce Act, which had been in effect since 1968. The amendments were introduced as Bill C-41 and included a new rule that would compel the noncustodial parent to pay child support, regardless of his or her financial status, and regardless of the household-income level of the custodial parent. Another change would have dramatically increased the penalties and fines levied by courts on those accused of nonpayment of child support; at the same time, the new proposals offered little remedy to noncustodial parents who were denied court-ordered visitation by the other parent. Oftentimes, a noncustodial parent would withhold child support payments in order to force the other parent to reinstate visiting rights.

The new proposals were championed by the Liberal Party as a long-overdue overhaul of Canada's out-moded divorce and custody statutes, but criticized by other parties, including the Progressive Conservatives, and by fathers' rights advocates. Cools famously broke with her party on the bill, asserting it was biased against noncustodial parents—who were by and large the fathers—and her stance threatened the bill's passage. It was approved in a House of Commons vote and moved to the Senate. In January of 1997 it went into debate by the Senate justice committee, and Cools voted against the clauses she believed were unfair. Cools's Liberal Party colleagues were angered, but her office began receiving letters and phone calls in support of her defiance. "There's a deeper issue at stake here," Cools explained to Joe Woodard in Alberta Report. "The issue is whether children need both parents. If they do, then the law better start encouraging parents to cooperate with each other, even if they are getting divorced."

Gradually some newspaper editorials began to concede the proposed changes were unfair to noncustodial parents, but C-41 eventually passed in both houses, though a compromise was struck that created a Special Senate-House of Commons Joint Committee on child custody and access after divorce, which Cools chaired. The committee held contentious hearings and issued its recommendations in a December of 1998 report titled "For the Sake of the Children." Cools was widely attacked during the testimony period and once the report became public, particularly over a concern she voiced that perhaps some mothers filed false child abuse charges against their ex-husbands. "It's time for us to begin to understand that human beings are flawed, that both sexes are capable of being equally loving and hateful," Candis McLean in Alberta Report quoted Cools as saying.

Committed to Social Conservative Causes

Cools also broke with her party over a law establishing a national firearms registry, siding with more conservative politicians that the registry was unfair to law-abiding Canadians who were also gun owners, and was a vocal opponent of a movement to legalize same-sex marriage in Canada, which went into effect in 2005. By then Cools had left the party altogether, joining the Conservative (Tory) Party of Canada—the successor to the Progressive Conservatives—but remained a maverick in that party as well. She was barred from her committee duties after questioning a new government accountability bill in the fall of 2006, and in June of 2007 was ousted from the Tory caucus, or designated party seating on the Senate floor, after making accusations that two fellow senators had grabbed and assaulted her. She was not specific about when the attacks had occurred, but hinted that they were the result of partisan bickering. She remained a staunch foe of legislative measures that favored one gender over another. In the Chatelaine interview, she noted that "this feminism that has grown up suddenly in the last few years, where all virtue and goodness is stacked up on the side of women, and all evil and violence is stacked up on the side of men—well, human nature doesn't work that way." Cools's tough and decisive nature, however, was certain to keep her working toward her ideals in Canada's government.



Alberta Report, February 17, 1997, p. 28-29; January 11, 1999, p. 33.

Chatelaine, August 1997, p. 32.

New York Times, February 15, 1969, p. 6.

Ottawa Citizen, June 25, 2007.


The Honourable Anne C. Cools, (August 16, 2007).