Alberta Report

Monday, January 11, 1999

"The demonization of Senator Cools"

Candis Mclean
Alberta Report

Canada's divorce laws satisfy no one. But when the joint Commons-Senate committee chaired by Senator Anne Cools [Sen. Cools was a committee member, not the Chairman. The committee was jointly chaired by senator, The Hon. Landon Pearson, and an MP, Roger Gallaway. The committee was set up through the insistence of Senator Anne C. Cools and Senator Duncan Jessiman as the result of the review process of Bill C-41 -- the bill that addressed changes pertaining to the Canadian Divorce Act but only child financial maintenance and which ignored custody and access. -- FACT] tabled a set of proposed amendments on December 9, the result was a firestorm of vitriol aimed primarily at Senator Cools. The attacks were "vicious and nasty," says the senator. But ever more interesting, she says, was the implied "moral superiority of the female gender" which formed the basis for a feminist assault on the committee's central recommendation, namely that the words "custody" and "access" be replaced with the concept of "shared parenting."

In an attempt to reduce the adversarial aspects of divorce, the committee recommended that courts no longer grant sole custody to one parent. But it stopped short of recommending that joint custody be a forced solution for every divorce case, leaving the courts to make the final decision on who gets the children.

Enraged by shared parenting's implied message that men play a vital parenting role, feminist journalists aimed their ire at the committee chairman, describing what were calm exchanges during committee hearings as "rough-and-tumble" attacks on feminist witnesses. For example, according to the Parliamentary transcript, Sen. Cools asked Eileen Morrow and Ruth Hislop, lobbyists for the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, how many women had stayed at their shelters during the previous year. "We didn't do a survey last year because we lost our provincial funding." Ms. Morrow replied. "Okay," said Sen. Cools, "the previous year, the last year." When Ms. Morrow still I did not reply, Sen. Cools said, "Okay, during the last year or when you have data, how many women stayed at your shelter?"

Sen. Cools rephrased the question seven times. But with no answer forthcoming, she turned to divorce and wife abuse statistics, where she again asked for numbers. The lobbyists did not have those statistics, either. Suddenly committee member Sen. Erminie Cohen began to cry. "I feel we're pitting women against women," she said. "These women should not be attacked. They're doing their job and we have no right to make this division.'

On April 18, Michelle Landsberg commented on the incident in the Toronto Star with breathtaking disregard for the facts. "According to witnesses." she wrote, "when representatives of women's services and shelters began their allotted five minutes of testimony, Senator Anne Cools smiled sarcastically, rolled her eyes, and then got up to stroll the room and work the crowd, chatting and joking with the rows of father's rights activists. When Beth Bennet of the Assaulted Women's Help Line began to testify about women recently murdered by their violent ex-partners, these men erupted in noisy laughter, jeers and shouts ...In fact, the men's aggressive and abusive behavior at the committee hearings bears out just how threatening they are."

"That was all a lie," reports Torontonian Dori Gospodoric, who represented Second Spouses of Canada throughout the hearings. "When that came out in the media I w s horrified. I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. The atmosphere was like a court, very orderly. I could hear a sigh once from the men, but then the gavel came down and everyone was silent as a mouse."

"The mainstream press who attended never saw any of the stuff the female columnists were writing about," adds Liberal MP Roger Gallaway, co-chairman of the committee. "Anne likes a position that certain feminists don't agree with, and rather than debate they want to shoot the messenger."

Two weeks after the Landsberg article appeared, Penni Mitchell published a column in the Winnipeg Free Press which stated, "According to both news reports and verbatim transcripts of the hearings on the Internet, Senator Cools has brow-beaten female presenters who refused to concur that mothers are behind a wave of false abuse charges." In December, the same Ms. Mitchell wrote that, "Non-custodial fathers were given precedence on the list of presenters at the hearing" and some presenters "were threatened by Ms. Cool's with lie detector tests."

None of Ms. Mitchell's accusations was true. "It's disgusting," says Mr. Gallaway, "They're just manure spreaders. But if people read enough of these articles, they start to think there's something to them."

"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," concludes Sen. Cools. "But, the matter of misreporting is distressing. I'm quite prepared to be criticized and defend and debate, but the truth is not up for debate. Something has to be true. That's my standard."

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