Ottawa Citizen
Thursday 29 March 2001

Senator alleges racism in caucus

Liberal Cools says she's even been called 'black bitch' by colleagues

Tim Naumetz
The Ottawa Citizen


Chris Mikula, The Ottawa Citizen / Race and Faith Invade Politics: Anne Cools said in a recent speech that the Liberal hierarchy has denied her promotions and kept her off Senate committees because of her race.

Liberal Senator Anne Cools has shaken her party with a dramatic claim that she has been the victim of racist treatment within the Liberal caucus, to the point of being called a "black bitch" by some of her colleagues.

Ms. Cools suggested in a recent Senate speech that the Liberal caucus hierarchy has excluded her from promotion and kept her off Senate committees because of her race.

In a subsequent interview this week, Ms. Cools waded into the ongoing controversy over Secretary of State Hedy Fry's allegation of cross-burnings in British Columbia.

She called the claim "nonsense" and said it has probably hurt race relations in the country.

Canadian Alliance MP Gurmant Grewal, an Indo-Canadian parliamentarian who has been attacking Ms. Fry over her statement, said Ms. Cools' comments support claims of subtle racism within Liberal ranks. He said he heard the complaints from members of visible minorities during the election campaign last November.

"One particular member said, 'We have an invisible glass ceiling' so the (visible minority) members of the Liberal party cannot rise above that," said Mr. Grewal. "He was saying they can rise only to certain levels, those who are ethnic."

While Prime Minister Jean Chretien has four cabinet ministers who are members of visible minorities or aboriginal, three of them, including Ms. Fry, are junior secretaries of state.

Ms. Cools, who became the first black senator in Canada when the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau appointed her in 1984, told the Senate she has experienced "unbridled brutishness" within the Liberal caucus. She said all party caucuses use secrecy in the name of party discipline to shield ruthless treatment.

"Party caucuses employ many techniques of injury and maltreatment," said Ms. Cools, well known as a party renegade who has often been a thorn in the side of Liberal governments. "These (treatments) include humiliating, discrediting, thwarting, undermining, embarrassing, maligning, isolating, deceiving, spitefulness and other negative tools."

Ms. Cools made the comments earlier this month while recapping for the Senate a February speech she delivered to a Canadian Bar Association dinner in Toronto to mark Black History Month in Canada.

She told the Senate she informed the lawyers about racism she has experienced within the Liberal party, going back to race-based opposition to her nomination as a Liberal candidate in Toronto for the 1979 and 1980 federal elections. "Certain Liberals were shocked," said Ms. Cools. "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."

Ms. Cools said she advised black lawyers at the bar association dinner not to be dissuaded by racist acts.

"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," Ms. Cools recounted to the Senate.

Liberal MPs were shocked by Ms. Cools' Senate speech. "I've never seen signs (of racism)," said party whip Marlene Catterall, who added Liberals have only shown "the most open acceptance of every one of our members of Parliament as individuals with all the talents they bring to this place."

Liberal MP Steve Mahoney, who chairs the party's Ontario caucus, said he has not seen any "orchestrated or sustained" racist attitudes in the caucus.

Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.