The Honourable Irwin Cotler, P.C., O.C., O.Q., Ad. E., is the founder and international chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and an international human rights lawyer. He was named Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism in November 2020.
Through his career, Mr. Cotler demonstrated strong leadership in the fight against racism, antisemitism, and hate, and acquired a vast experience in justice and human rights. Between 1999 and 2015, he served as the Member of Parliament for Mount Royal. As a Parliamentarian, he advocated for human rights and international justice, including as chair of the first-ever Assembly of Parliamentarians for the International Criminal Court and chair of Parliamentarians for Global Action (Canada). He was also chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran, the Inter-Parliamentary Group of Justice for Sergei Magnitsky, and the All-Party Save Darfur Parliamentary Coalition, as well as co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combatting Antisemitism.
As Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada from 2003 to 2006, Mr. Cotler launched Canada’s first National Justice Initiative Against Racism and Hate, initiated Canada’s first legislation to combat the trafficking of women and children, and initiated the first-ever prosecution for the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. He also helped make the Supreme Court of Canada the world’s most gender-representative supreme court, appointed the first-ever Indigenous and visible minority justices to the Ontario Court of Appeal, and led the adoption of the Civil Marriage Act.
Mr. Cotler is an internationally recognized scholar and human rights advocate. As a constitutional and comparative legal specialist, he has published numerous seminal legal articles, and has intervened in landmark Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms cases on free speech, freedom of religion, minority rights, peace law, and war crimes. As an international human rights lawyer characterized as “counsel for the oppressed”, he has served as counsel to various high-profile prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov, Natan Sharansky, Jacobo Timerman, and Professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim. He currently serves as counsel to Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak, and Venezuelan judge María Lourdes Afiuni, among others.
Mr. Cotler was previously chair of the International Commission of Inquiry into the Fate and Whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg and a member of the 1988 Commission of Inquiry on the Crime of Apartheid. He presently serves as a member of the Organization of American States Independent Panel of Legal Experts on Venezuela and is the Canadian member of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom.
Mr. Cotler is a Privy Councillor, an Officer of the Order of Canada, an Officer of the National Order of Quebec, a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and an Avocat émérite. He is the recipient of 17 honorary doctorates and numerous awards from institutions in Canada and around the world. He was the first Canadian recipient of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation’s Centennial Medal, and received the Law Society of Upper Canada’s inaugural Human Rights Award. He has also received the Canadian Bar Association President’s Award, the Romeo Dallaire Award for Human Rights Leadership, and the Sir Zafrullah Khan Award for Distinguished Public Service. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by former Prime Minister Paul Martin and leaders of other political parties.