London Free Press

March 20, 2001

Senator vilified for family values stance

By RORY LEISHMAN -- London Free Press

Senator Anne Cools is a Liberal from Ontario and the first black ever to serve in the Upper Chamber. She was nominated for the post in 1984 by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

Today, a great many Liberals think Trudeau made a lamentable mistake in selecting Cools for such an honour. Speaking in the Senate on March 13, she described herself as, "a stranger, an exile," among her Liberal colleagues in Parliament. "A just relation with my caucus," she said, "is unknown to me."

In a recent address to the Canadian Bar Association, Cools confided: "I am aware that some individual Liberal colleagues have even described me as a 'black bitch.' " Nonetheless, Cools says she told the black people in her audience, "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."

Quite so. Still, it's a shock to think some Liberal MPs would deride Cools as a "black bitch." No Liberal would direct such a vicious, racist epithet at a black colleague such as Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women Hedy Fry. Why is Cools singled out for abuse?

The answer is obvious. Cools is an outspoken defender of marriage, the family and equality rights for men and women. In 1999, she was named Person of the Year by Real Women of Canada in recognition of her "outstanding contributions to promote and preserve family values in Canada."

That's more than enough to get almost anyone kicked out of the Liberal party. Trendy Liberals, though, cannot get rid of Cools. She is too influential. However much she might be despised by most Liberals, she has some strong backers within the party and widespread support elsewhere, thanks to her rare combination of intelligence, courage and tenacity in public service.

Still, Liberal feminists regard Cools as a traitor. They used to celebrate her as a hero for her role in creating social services for battered women.

In 1974, she founded Women in Transition Inc., one of the first battered women centres in Canada. To the dismay of many feminists today, Cools deplores all forms of spousal violence -- whether of men against women or women against men. She is also an indefatigable advocate of fair treatment for men and women in the aftermath of divorce.

In these campaigns, Cools has worked closely with Sarnia-Lambton Liberal MP Roger Galloway, a fellow maverick within the Liberal caucus. Together, they headed up the Special Joint Committee of Parliament on Child Custody and Access that called in 1998 for some wide-ranging reforms to divorce law. Justice Minister Anne McLellan has yet to act on the recommendations.

In 1999, Cools took issue with Bill C-78, a government measure to extend survivor pension benefits to same-sex partners.

"Honourable senators," she thundered, "I wish to challenge senators and the government to review the manner in which this government has advanced and proceeded with these questions. We owe these issues a full and comprehensive examination and debate in Parliament, where the legal, political, philosophical and moral questions can be heard, considered, debated and decided."

As it is, Parliament has had little to say about the implications for the family of extending spousal benefits to same-sex couples. "In contrast," noted Cools, "the courts have had a free hand and have romped and galloped into political and policy areas which are not theirs. The courts are not the proper forum for these decisions. The public's unhappiness with judicial activism is palpable and the results are unsatisfactory."

Cools observed that people who uphold the traditional family are apt to be accused of heterosexism and homophobia. "Consequently," she said, "many people who believe very deeply that marriage must be respected, just as homosexual people must be protected, are frequently trapped. It is a form of terrorism. It is a potent tool, a powerful instrument, to accuse anyone who raises a social concern or a criticism of an 'ism.' "

"As a black person," she concluded, "I know much about "isms."

Indeed, she does. And the rest of us can learn a lot from Cools about the virtue of striving always to speak the truth in love, despite the risk of getting vilified by hatemongers.

Write Rory at The London Free Press, P.O. Box 2280, London, Ont. N6A 4G1 or fax 519-667-4528 or E-mail.
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