Rosie Douglas elected prime minister of Dominica

By Barbara Black


I074/P14Photo: STUDENTS TOOK OVER SEVERAL FLOORS OF THE HALL BUILDING IN 1969 AND THREW THOUSANDS OF COMPUTER DATA CARDS OUT THE WINDOWS.

 

Roosevelt (Rosie) Douglas, a key player in the 1969 Sir George Williams Computer Riot, has been elected prime minister of Dominica.

In an election held January 31, his Labour Party won 10 seats to the governing United Workers' Party's nine. A third party won two seats, making it likely that Douglas will seek a coalition to form a government. The biggest election issue was the selling of Dominican passports to foreigners, allegedly including gangsters and smugglers, a practice that Douglas opposes and promises to reform.

Dominica is the largest of the Windward Islands, situated between Guadeloupe and Martinique in the eastern Caribbean. It is 29 miles long by 16 miles at its widest, about the size of the Island of Montreal. It has a population of about 71,000 people.

Douglas was 28, a 16-year resident of Canada, a landed immigrant and a student of McGill University when the computer Riot took place. A months-long dispute over charges of racism levelled against a professor led to the occupation of several floors of the Henry F. Hall Building (then part of the Sir George Williams University) and erupted into violence on February 11, 1969.

The ninth floor of the Hall Building was badly damaged by fire, many of the university's records were lost, and the damages mounted to $2.5 million. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The riot still stands as the most dramatic and costly student protest in Canadian history. The professor was exonerated after an inquiry, and continued his career at Sir George Williams and Concordia.

Douglas was the charismatic leader of the occupiers, who included many sympathetic white students. This writer, then a CBC television researcher, was in telephone contact with him for several days, as the students dug in at the seventh-floor faculty club.

After police moved in and fire broke out, 97 students were arrested. Douglas was charged with obstructing the use of private property, and found guilty in a jury trial. In 1973-74, he served 18 months of a two-year prison sentence and was then deported.

He has been refused free entry to Canada in the past, but told CBC Radio's Dave Bronstetter the soon after his election victory that he would approach Jean Chrétien "prime minister to prime minister" to get this restriction lifted. A career politician in his native Dominica, he says now that he may have been "over-zealous" in 1969.

Douglas's son Robert attended Concordia, and in 1987-88 was co-president of the Concordia University Student Association. Another McGill graduate charged in the Sir George riot was Ann Cools, who was later named to the Senate by Pierre Trudeau. A Progressive Conservative, she is best known these days for defending the rights of divorced fathers.


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