PC, OC, MP
|Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Mount Royal
November 15, 1999
|Preceded by||Sheila Finestone|
|Minister of Justice|
December 12, 2003 – February 5, 2006
|Prime Minister||Paul Martin|
|Preceded by||Martin Cauchon|
|Succeeded by||Vic Toews|
May 8, 1940 |
|Profession||Lawyer, law professor|
Irwin Cotler, PC, OC, MP (born May 8, 1940) is the Member of Parliament for Mount Royal. He served as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada from 2003 until the Liberal government of Paul Martin lost power following the 2006 federal election. He was first elected to the Canadian House of Commons in a by-election in November 1999, winning 92% of votes cast.
Early life 
The son of a lawyer, he was born in Montreal, Quebec, studied at McGill University there (receiving a BA in 1961, a law degree, and working as an editor at the McGill Law Journal) and then continued his education at Yale University. For a short period, he worked with federal Minister of Justice John Turner.
Cotler was a professor of law at McGill University and the director of its Human Rights Program from 1973 until his election as a Member of Parliament in 1999 for the Liberal Party of Canada. He has also been a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Yale Law School and is the recipient of ten honorary doctorates. He was appointed in 1992 as an Officer of the Order of Canada. He is a past president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Human rights activity 
Cotler has served on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and its sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Development, as well as on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. In 2000, he was appointed special advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the International Criminal Court.
He is considered an expert on international law and human rights law. As an international human rights lawyer, Cotler served as counsel to former prisoners of conscience Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Jacobo Timmerman in Latin America, Muchtar Pakpahan in Asia, as well as other well known political prisoners and dissidents. Cotler represented Natan Sharansky, who was imprisoned in the Soviet gulag for Jewish activism. After his release, Sharansky went on to become Israeli Deputy Prime Minister.
Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian democracy activist imprisoned by the Egyptian government, was represented by Cotler and acquitted in 2003. He acted as counsel to Maher Arar during part of Arar's imprisonment and supported demands for a public inquiry. He has also defended both Palestinians and Israelis against their own governments, and participated in a minor role in the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.
National Security and the Law 
One of the central challenges for Cotler during his time as Justice Minister was to address concerns about terrorism while guarding against arbitrary and unnecessary limits on rights. Part of his work in this regard, has included a review of Bill C-36, Canada's relatively recent Anti-Terrorism Act. The Anti-Terrorism Act has been criticized by some human rights groups and defense lawyers, as an unreasonable trade-off between security and freedom. Cotler believed that the legislation did, in fact, strike a balance between rights and national security concerns, but understood that further consultation was necessary in reviewing the legislation. On February 21, 2005, Cotler spoke of the important work that Bill C-36 involved, and invited experts and other groups to continue dialogue to improve the legislation in the review process.
Cotler presided over other legislative changes concerning national security. This included proposed changes to privacy legislation known as “Lawful Access” to give police and intelligence officers the tools to conduct surveillance of electronic communications for law enforcement and national security purposes.
Due to his position as Justice Minister, Cotler has received many appeals from various groups asking that so-called "secret" trials and detentions in Canada be abolished. But these "appeals" and protests are often based on false or inaccurate information. For example, the security certificates are subject to judicial review and constitutional scrutiny by the Federal Court of Canada and the proceeding is not "secret". Rather, only evidence deemed to relate to national security is protected from disclosure. Additionally, the Canadian federal court of appeal ruled, in December 2004, that security certificates were fully consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court heard the (related) appeals in June 2006, has reserved its decision.
Though he intended his foray into politics to be a brief departure from his academic career, this changed on December 12, 2003 when Prime Minister Paul Martin called upon him to enter Cabinet as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
He recommended the appointment of numerous women and aboriginal judges, including of two women to the Supreme Court of Canada in August 2004: Louise Charron and Rosalie Abella, making the Supreme Court the most gender-equity high court in the world.
On February 22, 2006, the Liberal Party appointed Cotler Critic for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in the opposition shadow cabinet for the 39th Canadian Parliament. On 18 January 2007, Cotler was appointed Critic for Human Rights by newly elected leader Stéphane Dion.
In January, 2009, Irwin Cotler was named Special Counsel on Human Rights and International Justice for the Liberal Party, under Michael Ignatieff, and subsequently Critic for Human Rights.
In the 2011 election, Cotler fended off a serious challenge from former city councillor Saulie Zajdel, a longtime Liberal supporter running as a Conservative who lost by only 2,500 votes. It was only the third time that the Liberals have been seriously threatened in Mount Royal since initially winning it in 1940, and the closest that a centre-right party has come to winning anywhere in Montreal since 1993. In May 2011, Cotler was named Justice and Human Rights Critic by interim Liberal leader Bob Rae.
Views on anti-racism, genocide and anti-Semitism 
As Minister of Justice, Cotler tabled Canada's first-ever National Justice Initiative Against Racism, in parallel with the government's National Action Plan Against Racism.
Cotler has also fought against genocide and impunity. His attempts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice have won praise as has been his founding of all-party Parliamentary groups to bring attention and action to end the genocide in Darfur. Cotler has worked with a group of international jurists to indict Iranian President Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide under the UN Charter and the Genocide Convention. Cotler released a petition in 2008 entitled “The Danger of a Genocidal and Nuclear Iran: A Responsibility to Prevent Petition.”
Irwin Cotler is an Honorary Member of The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.
- "Masthead, Volume 10". McGill Law Journal. 1964.
- "Irwin Cotler’s secret: calm amid the chaos". Maclean's. May 2, 2012. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
- Robert Bernstein  "Why We Need A New Human Rights Organization," February 24, 2011
- Official site
- Voices on Antisemitism Interview with Irwin Cotler from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- Irwin Cotler McGill University Biography
- "Irwin Cotler: A Canadian Anti-Apartheid Activist" - Interview from 1997
- "Is the war on Iraq illegal?" - Article by Cotler in "The Globe and Mail" 21 March 2003
- Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler comments about same sex marriage
- Human Rights and the New Anti-Jewishness in "FrontPageMagazine.com" 16 February 2004
- How'd They Vote?: Irwin Cotler's voting history and quotes
- Order of Canada citation
- Parliament Webpage
|27th Ministry – Cabinet of Paul Martin|
|Cabinet Post (1)|
|Martin Cauchon||Minister of Justice
|Parliament of Canada|
|Member of Parliament for Mount Royal
|President of the Canadian Jewish Congress
Milton E. Harris