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The journey of Senator Anne Cools

Posted on Tuesday, December 18, 2012

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Senator Anne C. Cools - Yuvraj Datta, president of Skylink presents Senator Anne C. Cools with the trailblazer Diversity Award for Transformation at the 2012 Diversity and Planet Africa Awards held at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.
When you are in the business of doing things and acting in the name of human justice and suffering, people notice you and call upon youSenator Anne Cools

By Francine Buchner

Anne Clare Cools became the first black Canadian in the senate when she was appointed by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1984. She is also a social worker and founder of one of the first shelters for abused women in Canada.

Born on August 12, 1943 in Barbados, Senator Cools is a product of the British Caribbean and would spend her childhood years in the midst of a country that was moving away from the enslavement era to Independence.

“Barbados was very different from many other smaller islands; they had a local white Barbadian group because when Barbados was settled they wanted to replicate England in Barbados,” says Cools.

Barbados gained full Independence on November 30, 1966 but Cools and her family had long left for Canada before that day came.

Cools’ family was no stranger to politics. Her mother, Rosita Miller Cools, was a British Methodist and small plantation owner, and her father Lucius Cools, a Roman Catholic ran in 1938 for the party that is today known as the Barbados Labour Party (BLP). Her cousin, Billie Miller, was the minister of foreign affairs and her grandfather was an elected vestryman who looked after civic matters, like ensuring an education was given to the less fortunate. “Some of the smartest people in Barbados came from very poor families and they went to the best schools on those vestries,” said Cools.

Cools attended Montessori school. By the time she was six years old, movements such as the Constitution of Barbados (amendment) was afoot. “I remember my mother and father going out to vote in that very first election of universal suffrage,” said Cools. She attended King’s College, an all-girls school which offered rigorous academic training. King’s College emphasized to their students the duty to serve.

Growing up hearing names like abolitionists, John Wesley and William Wilberforce, and classic writers such as Charles Dickens, John Buchan and Charles Kingsley, and Caribbean political stalwarts, Grantley Adams, Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley, Cools was influenced by their work. “I am supposed to serve my fellow man, engaging the many. This was instilled in me as a child.”

When Grantley Adams was organizing in Barbados, her family was a part of that Barbados Labour Party (BLP) movement and Adams won becoming the country’s first premier. ‘When I was a little child, my head didn’t dance with basketball stars, my head danced with these people,” said Cools.

Her head also danced then with a pre-occupation of child mortality. “Inside of those early years too, another condition that afflicted most Barbadians was child mortality,” she said. The middle of eight siblings -- her parents lost two – Cools was born between the deaths of both. “And buried in all of that, because of my experience working with black youth in later years in Montreal, and the whole phenomenon of alienation of fathers, I learned very early that there’s nothing more destructive to a parent’s psychology than the loss of a child,” said Cools.

Her parents immigrated to Montreal, Canada when she was 13 years old. Cools studied sociology and psychology at McGill University. Then the American Civil Rights and Black Movement of the 1960s came and would influence the person that she was to become. In 1974 Cools moved to Toronto and founded Women in Transition Incorporated, a shelter for abused women.

“When you are in the business of doing things and acting in the name of human justice and suffering, people notice you and call upon you,” said Cools.

When Prime Minister Trudeau recommended her for the senate, it was during the heyday of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms being entrenched in the Constitution of Canada.

A player in federal politics in Canada for over 30 years, her passion is mending and healing families in conflict and she is best known for her extensive work on domestic violence. In 1977, Cools co-organized Canada’s first domestic violence conference, Couples in Conflict. She believes that violence and aggression are not gendered characteristics but human ones. She also believes in the psychology of reconciliation, discussion and exchange. Senator Cools is an advocate for shared parenting and the importance of fathers in their children’s lives. Thus she was instrumental in the creation of the Special Senate-House of Commons joint-committee on child custody and access after a divorce. As a result, shared parenting was recommended in For the Sake of the Children, the joint-committee’s 1998 report.

“A divorce ruptures the relationship between man and woman but it should not rupture parent and child,” explained Cools.

A life of politics has not been an easy road for the senator who refers to being a ‘lone soldier’ in the House at times. She was criticized for crossing the floor in 2004 from the Liberal Party to the Conservative Party because she was critical of the Liberal government of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin and of same-sex marriage. In 2007, she was ostracized by the Conservative Party for speaking out against Prime Minister Stephen Harper and for voting against that year’s budget.

Currently, she is not affiliated with any political party and sits as an independent in the House of Commons. “Life is a journey and we have to follow that journey,” says Cools.


Some of her awards and accolades over the years:

  • Toronto Sun named Senator Cools as one of the 50 Canadians who made a difference in 2006;
  • The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 2004 named Senator Cools as one of the 100 greatest Canadians of all time and ranked her number 72;
  • The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recognized Senator Cools as one of Canada’s Top 20 women of all-time;
  • Planet Africa Trailblazer Award (2012);
  • Woman of Excellence Leadership Award from the National Centre for Strategic Non-profit Planning and Community Leadership, Washington, D.C (2004);
  • Toronto Bob Marley Day Award in recognition of Canada’s multicultural heritage and her continuing struggle to promote equality, peace and harmony (2001)


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