Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 37th Parliament,
Volume 139, Issue 14

Tuesday, March 13, 2001
The Honourable Dan Hays, Speaker


Black History Month

Presentation to Canadian Bar Association-Inquiry-Debate Adjourned

Hon. Anne C. Cools rose pursuant to notice of February 20, 2001:

That she will call the attention of the Senate to the celebration of Black History Month in Canada, and the Canadian Bar Association of Ontario dinner in Toronto on February 1, 2001, at which she, as the keynote speaker, spoke to the topic "A Room With a View: A Black Senator's View of the Canadian Senate."

She said: Honourable senators, February was Black History Month and across this country there were many celebrations in which my name was raised frequently as the first Black person to be appointed as a member of the Senate of Canada. My role as a senator is important to Black people and all Canadians. Most Canadians are aware that I always stand on issues and never rely on my race or my gender. In my political experience, my skin colour has never been a factor in obtaining public support. My public support is significant. I am honoured that so many Canadians in every province of this country deeply believe in me. To be sure, there are racists, bigots, prejudiced and race-minded persons; however, such persons, wherever they may be, remain a minority in our population. They can be and are oppressive and objectionable as they subject many Black persons to diminution, to hurt and to various privations. However, I believe that this minority embarrasses the majority of Canadians.

Honourable senators, my subject today is my speech on February 1, 2001, to the Canadian Bar Association of Ontario dinner in Toronto in celebration of Black History Month. The history of Canada and its Black peoples is quite different from, even contrary to, American history. The major difference was the notion of the Crown and the Queen. In Canada, unlike in the United States, no civil war had been fought and no Black person had ever been lynched. The reason is no accident. The reason is the powerful, overarching, systemic, mystical, phenomenon called the Crown, with Queen and Parliament. The reason is that unique constitutional relationship of allegiance between Queen and subject, buttressed by its corollary the Queen's peace. The Queen's peace, the constitutional precept that every subject's life is inviolable and sacred, that every subject's life is owed the Queen's protection, was a part of Canada's national psyche and national conscience. Hence, the lynching of Black people was unknowable and unknown in Canada.

Honourable senators, some months ago, Toronto criminal lawyer John Rosen, who chaired the dinner, had asked me to address this bar association gathering on the topic "A Room With a View: A Black Senator's View of the Canadian Senate." That evening, I was touched by the excellent attendance and the warm, personal welcome. I was especially pleased to see our Black judges, Mr. Justice Keith A. Hoilett, of the Ontario Superior Court, and Mr. Justice Vibert A. Lampkin and Mr. Justice Gregory Regis, both of the Ontario Court of Justice. I saw Toronto criminal lawyers Walter Fox, Cynthia Wasser, and Law Society of Upper Canada Bencher Gary Lloyd Gottlieb. Former colleague Senator Marian Maloney, whose husband is a judge, sat next to me and the judges. Many Black and White lawyers, law students and others attended. Toronto barristers Vusumzi Msi and Michelle Hamilton introduced and thanked me.

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Honourable senators, I began by citing Sir Lyman Duff, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada from 1933 to 1944, from his speech to the Annual Dinner of the Ontario Bar Association in May 1925. Sir Lyman had been talking about the Privy Council and the great lawyers who had been members of Parliament, public men, and who became Lord Chancellors and judges, particularly Sir George Mr. Jessel, Britain's nineteenth century Solicitor General under Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone.

Sir Lyman said:

There you will meet the name of Jessel, the Jewish son of a fishmonger. He obtained a seat in the House of Commons, made a few political speeches, that attracted precisely the attention they deserved, which was none. But one day a legal question arose, that greatly interested Mr. Gladstone, who was then Prime Minister. On that question Jessel made a speech, and, a vacancy having occurred shortly afterwards in the office of Solicitor General, Jessel was at once appointed on the initiative of the Prime Minister himself. The great Liberal leader used to say that Jessel, speaking in the House of Commons on a legal question, spoke in the accents of an angel; while on politics he was incapable of anything but partisan commonplace. Mr. Gladstone was not particularly fond of lawyers as a profession. He always objected to the salaries of the judges as much too high. He was horrified at the fees earned by the law officers of the Crown. He used jocularly to say, glancing at those same fees, that lawyers in public life had one sovereign infirmity - they could never keep their hands out of the till; and, he was wont to add, there was one exception, and that was Jessel, the Jew. Jessel was the darling of solicitors. He despatched judicial business with miraculous rapidity. Only once, it is said, in his judicial career did he reserve a judgement. Never, I believe, was he reversed.

This evoked much amusement. John Rosen and others chuckled loudly. Reaching out to the younger Black lawyers, I emphasized that Jessel, later the first Jewish judge in England, was made a law officer of the Crown, not because he was a Jew, but because he knew the law and was just. I urged those lawyers, young and old, to know the law and to know the difference between the law, politics and interests, in particular self-interest, and to pursue virtue.

Honourable senators, I spoke about former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and my 1984 Liberal appointment to the Senate by him, and about many issues, including divorce, the importance of both fathers and mothers in children's lives, and about systemic institutionalized, legalized fatherlessness. I told the lawyers that men and women are equally capable of good acts and bad acts, and that virtue and vice are human characteristics, not gendered ones. This attracted much applause. I also spoke about the Senate and its role in the Constitution.

Honourable senators, I raised the name of William Wilberforce, believing that no Black History Month should pass without mention of this great member of Britain's House of Commons from 1780 to 1825. Wilberforce, an evangelical Anglican, and others had worked in Parliament for 40 years to abolish the slave trade and slavery. They succeeded. Another abolitionist, John Wesley, an Anglican minister and founder of the Methodist Church, in March 1791, just days before he died, wrote a letter to William Wilberforce, recorded in Samuel Wilberforce's l868 book The Life of Wilberforce, saying:

...I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise, in opposing that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils; but if God be for you who can be against you...Go on in the name of God, and in the power of His might, till even American slavery, the vilest that ever saw the sun, shall vanish away before it. That He who has guided you from your youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things, is the payer of your affectionate servant, JOHN WESLEY.

Reverend Wesley cautioned Wilberforce on the insufficiency of trusting in one's own righteousness and worthiness. As a senator, I understand too well that even with the whole force of truth, with being righteous and judicious on one's side, and even with rational argument and the powers of moving eloquence on one's side, victory and justice are uncertain and are often elusive for reasons that are profoundly human. The human psyche and human nature are artful dodgers. Human frailty, weakness, cowardice, vanity and inadequacy will defeat good and will permit and even support a multitude of wrongs. Human insufficiency is sobering and staggering.

Honourable senators, the Bar audience knew that I am Canada's first Black senator, the first Black female member of the Parliament of Canada, the senior female senator, and the Liberal caucus' very first Black member. They were eager to hear of my experiences as a Black person in the Senate, the Liberal Party and in politics.

I told them about being a candidate in the federal general elections of 1979 and 1980 in the Toronto riding of Rosedale. I told them of the great mutual respect and admiration that the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau and I had shared. I told them about being one of his loyal candidates in that very deadly general election in 1979 in which Mr. Trudeau and his Liberals were defeated, and in which Mr. Trudeau was almost destroyed, politically and personally. I told them that, as a Black person, it was indeed novel when I had presented myself in 1978 as a contestant for the Liberal nomination to be the Liberal candidate for Toronto's Rosedale.

Certain Liberals were shocked. Certain Liberals said much, publicly and privately, about me not being the right person for that important riding. The rightness to Rosedale riding revolved around my complexion, my skin colour. Tellingly, then as now, my public support was much more than substantial, especially in Rosedale itself.

Nominations are a battle of numbers. I had regiments, in fact armies of people. This nomination meeting, with only two candidates, was so huge that Liberal Party personnel had had difficulty finding a location large enough to hold it. In fact, the nomination meeting was postponed several times, each time in search of a larger locale and was held finally in the spring, on April 6, 1978.

Honourable senators, the meeting was enormous, the largest ever, attended by many thousands of people. It was widely publicized. In an unprecedented and unusual act, Prime Minister Trudeau himself attended, arriving after the votes had been counted. Mr. Trudeau attended this exceptionally large publicized media event because coincidentally that same day was his tenth anniversary as Leader of the Liberal Party.

Even though I lost that 1978 nomination to John Evans, then President of the University of Toronto, that nomination process burst into public consciousness and was claimed by the public. That Rosedale nomination and those events changed Canadian politics forever.

"En passant," the National Film Board made a documentary about that nomination and me. Inspired by certain Liberals' preoccupation with my adequacy for Rosedale, the National Film Board titled its film The Right Candidate for Rosedale.

Honourable senators, immediately following that spectacular spring Rosedale nomination meeting and others that publicly displayed backroom manipulation and other Liberal failings, the Liberal Party's fortunes plummeted dramatically. This dramatic downward trend continued unswervingly to the fall and that October's stunning massive by-election losses - 13 out of 15 candidates. In Toronto, some Liberal candidates lost by a margin of almost two to one, including Rosedale's. This culminated in the 1979 Liberal Party's defeat in the general election, in which I, having later won that 1979 nomination, was the candidate in Rosedale.

During that 1979 election, I saw some of the most coarse human behaviours, even people spitting on people, Liberal people. I stood firm in the face of unspeakable and despicable anti-Trudeau actions. I carried his standard raised high. Many of the young Black lawyers were amazed as I said that whenever my campaign signs were defaced by the word "nigger" or other vile terms, that then, as now, I made no issue publicly. I acted to protect my leader, my party and my team. We simply removed those defaced signs and replaced them.

I was determined that there would be no racial or other stain on Mr. Trudeau. That responsibility was put on me by unthinking Liberals. I successfully averted the negative consequences to Mr. Trudeau and to the Liberal Party of those certain Liberals' backward, unreasonable and short-sighted musings on the rightness and wrongs of my Black skin and their dubious musings that a Black person, a woman at that, was not suitable to be the Liberal Party's candidate in Rosedale. I learned very early, there and then, that my journey in the Liberal Party would be steep and uphill, and that my ground would have to be the high ground, or at least higher ground than my detractors.

Honourable senators, I spoke to the lawyers about being Black in the Senate, mindful that many Canadians are curious about why, as a senior senator with such significant public support, I have never held any senior position in the Parliament of Canada. I told my audience that human nature is imperfect, and consequently, so are society's leaders, and that it is imperative that leaders aspire to ideals and principles that are higher than their own human nature and their own needs. Failure to so aspire will result in leadership based on self-interest, personal fancy, vanity and ambition, what St. Augustine called the libido dominandi - the lust for dominion, for personal power. I told the audience that racism and race-mindedness are real, yet eminently conquerable, and that they can and shall overcome it. I told them that in the corridors of Parliament, racism and bigotry are delicate subjects. Human beings have difficulty with their own prejudices and their own insufficiencies. To make this point, I cited Benjamin Franklin at the 1787 American Constitutional Convention. He said, in part, the following:

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For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.

This provides some insight into the human condition, the paucity in human behaviour, particularly within organizations of public and political life. It also sheds some light on the peculiar set of human relations and dynamics that assemble in the social unit known as political party parliamentary caucuses. Further, human paucity is heightened in the context of party caucuses, because caucuses are a secret, and because secrecy, by its nature, possesses a large element of darkness.

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I regret to interrupt the honourable senator but her time has expired. Does the honourable senator seek leave to continue?

Senator Cools: Yes, Your Honour.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Cools: I thank honourable senators.

Caucuses are ruthless, and that secrecy can and does enhance and shield such ruthlessness. Often, caucus secrecy is a shield for much maltreatment, as some cloak their activities in the justification of party and party discipline, even when there is neither party nor public good involved. Often, the real human forces at work are greed, power, jealousy, and all those other passions that Benjamin Franklin listed. Membership in a party caucus is premised on the harsh fact of take it or leave it, best illustrated as either the total endurance of all assaults, or total abandonment, that is, the yielding of all, the whole ground to the assaulters.

Party caucuses have become a rough and brutal trade where unlimited hardship and injury are meted out to caucus members to the limits only of their ability to suffer them. Oftentimes, those injuries are unchecked by the leaders, sometimes even supported. Party caucuses employ many techniques of injury and maltreatment. These include humiliating, discrediting, thwarting, undermining, embarrassing, maligning, isolating, deceiving, spitefulness and other negative tools. Caucus is a secret and beyond the law. I have known unbridled brutishness. The phenomenon and practices of caucus as a social unit of human relations is needing introspection, principled and critical examination, and enlightened renewal and change.

Honourable senators, I told the lawyers that as a senior senator my seniority and precedence have been continually bypassed. I told them that, for example, as a senior senator I have never been permitted to be a chairman of a single Senate committee. En passant, many wondered why I was bypassed to be the Senate Chair of the 1998 Special Joint Committee of the Senate and of the House of Commons on Child Custody and Access. Public support notwithstanding, the fact is that it was uncertain that I would even be permitted to be a member of that committee. I explained that even though seniority and precedence dictate that senior senators should have first choice of committees that this had not been so in my instance and that I had been excluded from certain committees of my choice. Last year, after years barred, I was finally permitted to serve on one particular Senate committee. Interestingly enough, a particular bill came to the Senate, a bill that I had studied exhaustively. This bill should have gone to that committee. Instead, it found itself in a new special committee, to which I was not named a member, specially constituted to study the bill solely. The obvious result was the exclusion of my voting participation in that committee's study of that bill.

Similarly, in recent years, I had caused the Senate to amend three government bills. Three times, the parliamentary opportunity, that parliamentary action of formally moving the amending motions to those three bills, was denied to me and was denied to the record, Parliament's Hansard, and to our history - remember that this was Black History Month, honourable senators. Uncustomarily, in an unprecedented action, on one of those bills, that parliamentary opportunity denied to me was granted to an opposition Conservative senator, and that even after some Liberal senators had spoken publicly in the media about removing me from the committee in question. I told of my condition in my Senate Liberal caucus, of my Senate condition. Mindful that caucus is a secret, I spoke only of that which is not a secret. In the lexicon of existentialism, I told my audience that within my own caucus I am a stranger, an exile. A just relation with my caucus is unknown to me.

Honourable senators, I move now to the question of moral leadership. I offered my Bar audience, my lawyers, classical Judeo-Christian principles that founded our society. I offered them the pursuit of virtue. I offered them forbearance, patience and perseverance in the face of adversity. When I told them that I am aware that some individual Liberal colleagues have even described me as a "Black bitch," they were surprised at my forbearance and magnanimity. I told the Black people there that they should not be deterred, that for every act of racism directed at them there are 10 opportunities available and that they should use them. I assured them that the majority of Canadians are with them and that most Canadians are deeply embarrassed by those Canadians who are racist, bigoted and race-minded. I told them to ignore all slights and insults from those who are tyrannized by their own prejudices. I invited the young Black lawyers to cast off all prejudice and any and all notions of inferiority, limitation, inadequacy and restraint. I told them to aspire to the highest and to the noblest, and to engage in the politics and affairs of our nation. I also told them that virtue should be their goal and that virtue is the highest object.

In challenging my legal audience to pursue virtue, I said that not to pursue virtue is to pursue raw self-interest, raw ambition and greed. I told them that the law should promote virtue. I quoted St. Thomas Aquinas from his opus magnum Summa Theologia:

Planning for the general good belongs to the people as a whole or to someone representing them, since those pursuing the goal must do the planning for it. The aim of legislation, according to Aristotle, is the fostering of virtue.

On completing my speech, the Bar Association audience then entered into a profound standing ovation of very prolonged applause.

Honourable senators, in conclusion, I speak now to some peculiar forms of race-mindedness, of Black racial stereotypes and the dynamics between the stereotyped and the stereotyping. These dynamics are attended by two impulses, the patronizing impulse, being that tendency to patronizing benevolence, and the hostile impulse, being that tendency and instinct to antagonism. This form of race-mindedness is the intellectual and political subordination of Black persons and their resulting separation.

In a 1991 United States Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Justice Clarence Thomas identified this phenomenon. He described the expectation of the conformity of Black people to certain stereotypes as "objectionable." Many Black people simply do not fit the expected Black racial stereotypes because they, like all people, are individuals and differ accordingly. Their demeanour, conceptual framework, their speech styles, their intellectual and political outlook do not necessarily conform to stereotypes. This non-conformity, this difference between them and the stereotype, disrupts those with closely held stereotypes of expected behaviour of Black people. That distress, a form of resentment, is often expressed as antagonism, the hostile impulse, in contrast to the patronizing impulse based in the recognition by colour alone and not merit. Accomplished Black people in professional environments know these forms of race-mindedness and their consequences. The ultimate result is exclusion, separation - it is an apartheid - of Black persons as their intellectual and professional participation is blocked. This systematic blocking of full participation, this persistent absence of such Black persons' views, usually with no debate, and sometimes with persistent and intense antagonism, is race-mindedness, and it is a particular form of racism.

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In closing, honourable senators, I should like to say that racism is real - it exists. The particular form of racism that I just described is one that I know very well, having experienced it often.

However, this is here and now; this is Canada, a great country. I love Canada. I have much support here. I say to Canadians that I love them all. I am with them; I am a soldier; I will fight on.

On motion of Senator Kinsella, debate adjourned.