The unlikely career path of Senator Anne Cools

In 1984 she became the first black person to be appointed to Canada's Senate.

From protest leader to the Red Chamber

Anne Cools says she believes 'ethnic minorities' like her have a responsibility to play an integral part in society. 1:06

In 1977, the CBC aired a documentary called The Many Faces of Black.

One of those faces was Anne Cools, director of Women in Transition, a Toronto shelter for women and their children fleeing domestic violence. 

She had a lot to say about what it meant to be black in Canada in the 1970s.

"I believe that ethnic minorities have a ... responsibility to attempt to become conversant with the mainstream of life," she said.

Cools immigrated to Canada from Barbados with her family at age 13.

In 1969 she was a student activist in the protest over the treatment of Caribbean students at Sir George Williams University in Montreal. She served four months in jail for her role as a leader in the affair.

"Ethnic people have to learn the skills that are necessary towards ... the process of governing and administering this society," she continued in 1977. "Whether it be as miniscule as exercising their right to vote, or as ambitious as attempting to seek a position as an elected official."

Walking the walk

Running in the Toronto riding of Rosedale in 1980, Cools describes how she figured out the system. 2:02

Cools didn't just talk the talk. In 1978, she walked the walk, fighting to win the Liberal nomination for an upcoming byelection in the Toronto riding of Rosedale. She wasn't successful on that first attempt, losing the nomination to John Evans, the president of the University of Toronto.

The following year, however, Cools ended up being acclaimed as the Liberal candidate in the same riding. She didn't win a seat in the 1979 election. 

But she had another crack at it just nine months later, when Joe Clark's minority government was defeated and another election was called for February 1980. 

By then she had figured out how to be a contender. 

"He or she who knows where information is invariably has a lot of power," she told CBC reporter Henry Kowalski. "Sometimes, party hacks can prohibit, impede, intimidate ... new blood.

"There are many people who begin and say they want to run, and after a year of the emotional exhaustion ... they just shrug."

Cools didn't win in 1980, either. But the margin by which her two-time Progressive Conservative opponent beat her had narrowed considerably. 

A Senate first

The former Liberal candidate says she has every right to take her place in the Red Chamber. 0:49

In 1984, the loyalty and tenacity she had shown the Liberal Party paid off.

She was one of eight new senators named to the Red Chamber, and the first black person to become a senator.

Reporter Jason Moscovitz referred to "cynics" who had apparently suggested Cools didn't earn her seat. 

"My appointment is an appointment of merit," Cools responded. "[It] was something that was made in my efforts, and my energies, and in my labours over the past several years."

In 2004 Cools split with the Liberals over her opposition to same-sex marriage.  She joined the Conservative caucus instead, but was booted when she disagreed with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

She retired as an independent senator on her 75th birthday, the mandatory retirement age, in August 2018.