Prof. Irwin Cotler, born in 1940 in Montreal, Quebec, is a prominent Canadian figure known for his extensive political career and tireless advocacy for human rights.
He began his academic journey by earning a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and a Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) degree from McGill University. He was also an editor for the prestigious McGill Law Journal. Prof. Cotler furthered his education by obtaining an LL.M. from Yale Law School.
Before entering politics, Prof. Cotler was a law professor at McGill University and directed its Human Rights Program for over two decades. His scholarly contributions extended to serving as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and earning numerous honorary doctorates. In recognition of his accomplishments, he was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1992.
Prof. Cotler’s political journey began when he was elected as a Member of Parliament for Mount Royal in 1999, representing the Liberal Party of Canada. He served on various parliamentary committees, including the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and its sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Development. He was also appointed as a special advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the International Criminal Court. Throughout his career, Prof. Cotler provided legal counsel to renowned prisoners of conscience, including Nelson Mandela, Jacobo Timmerman, and Natan Sharansky. He was instrumental in advocating for their freedom.
As Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Prof. Cotler presided over legislative changes pertaining to national security. He was pivotal in introducing legislation like “Lawful Access” to enhance law enforcement and national security agencies’ capabilities in electronic surveillance for lawful purposes. He initiated Canada’s National Justice Initiative Against Racism, demonstrating his commitment to combating discrimination. Prof. Cotler’s work extended to the international stage, where he sought to hold individuals like Iranian President Ahmadinejad accountable for incitement to genocide. Prof. Cotler was first appointed as Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism on November 23, 2020, after a long career dedicated to fighting racism, antisemitism, and hate, including as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, a Parliamentarian, a recognized scholar, and an international human rights lawyer. As Special Envoy, Prof. Cotler is critical in advancing our work on combatting antisemitism at home and abroad and preserving Holocaust remembrance.