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Minister and Attorney General

The Honourable
Irwin Cotler

BIOGRAPHY

Minister of Justice and Attorney General - Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler is Member of Parliament for Mount Royal, where he was first elected in a by-election in November 1999.

On December 12, 2003, the Prime Minister appointed him Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. Minister Cotler was re-appointed on July 20th following the General Election of June 28.

Minister Cotler currently serves as a member of the following Cabinet committees: Aboriginal Affairs, Domestic Affairs; Canada-U.S.; and Security, Public Health and Emergencies. He has been a member of the House of Commons Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs and International Trade; Chair of the Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Development; and a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

A leading public advocate in and out of Parliament for the Human Rights Agenda, Minister Cotler recently headed the Canadian Delegation to the Stockholm International Forum on the Prevention of Genocide. He has served as Chair of the Parliamentarians for Global Action (Canada), and Member of its International Council; Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, the first ever all-party joint House-Senate human rights caucus (2001-2003); Executive Member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; Honorary Member of the Women's Caucus; and Special Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the International Criminal Court, where, inter alia, he shepherded the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act through Parliament (2000-2003).

One of the founders of the “Poverty Law” movement in Canada and the Pointe St-Charles Legal Aid Clinic some thirty years ago, Minister Cotler also helped found “Project Genesis” – a community service storefront office – in the Mount Royal riding, and was one of the original architects of what has become a Quebec- and nation-wide legal services programme.

Once described by Maclean's magazine as “Counsel for the Oppressed,” Irwin Cotler is an international human rights lawyer who has served as counsel to former prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union (Andrei Sakharov), South Africa (Nelson Mandela), Latin America (Jacobo Timmerman), and Asia (Muchtar Pakpahan). He recently served as international legal counsel to imprisoned Russian environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin; Nigerian playwright and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka; the Chilean-Canadian group Vérité et justice in the Pinochet case; Chinese-Canadian political prisoner, Professor KunLun Zhang; and, most recently, Professor Saad Edin Ibrahim, the leading democracy advocate in the Arab world.

As a constitutional and comparative law scholar, he has litigated every section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms , including landmark cases in the areas of free speech, freedom of religion, women's rights, minority rights, war crimes justice, prisoners' rights, and peace law. He has testified as an expert witness on human rights before parliamentary committees in Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Norway, and Israel, and has lectured at major international academic and professional gatherings in America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

A noted peace activist, Minister Cotler has been a leader in the movement for arms control, and helped develop “Peace Law” as an area of both academic inquiry and legal advocacy; as well, he has been engaged – both as scholar and participant observer – in the search for peace in the Middle East. He has lectured both in Arab countries and in Israel for over twenty years, and has been an active participant in rapprochement dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians.

A leader in the struggle against impunity and the development of international humanitarian law, Irwin Cotler served as counsel to the Deschênes Commission of Inquiry in the matter of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice; filed amicus briefs before the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda; and testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs regarding humanitarian intervention and the application of humanitarian law in Kosovo.

As a long-time advocate in the international struggle against racism and discrimination of any kind, Irwin Cotler has been at the forefront of the international struggle against apartheid, as well as in helping to develop legal remedies against racism in Canada and beyond. He has served as counsel to the National Coalition for Japanese-Canadian redress; counsel to the Chinese-Canadian National Council; counsel to the Coalition for Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations; Chair of the National Conference on Aboriginal Rights and the Canadian Justice System; and Co-Chair of the Canadian Helsinki Watch Group.

Minister Cotler has been a member of many governmental and citizens' Commissions of Inquiry, including the International Commission of Inquiry into the Fate and Whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg, and the Commission on Economic Coercion and Discrimination (both of which he chaired); the Commission of Inquiry on the Crime of Apartheid; the Commission of Inquiry into the Bringing of Nazi War Criminals to Justice; and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Irwin Cotler was appointed in 1992 as an Officer of the Order of Canada, where he was cited for his “extraordinary contribution to the cause of human rights.” He is the only Canadian elected to the Paris-based Académie universelle des cultures (1993), and the first recipient of the Justice Walter Tarnopolsky Memorial Medal, awarded jointly by the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Judges Association, the Canadian Association of Law Teachers, and the International Commission of Jurists (1994). In September 1999, he became the first academic ever to receive The Medal of the Bar of Montreal in recognition of his “outstanding contribution to the cause of justice”; more recently, he became the first recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. Minister Cotler is currently on leave as a Professor of Law at McGill University, where he is Director of its Human Rights Programme and Chair of InterAmicus , the McGill-based International Human Rights Advocacy Centre. He has been a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Yale Law School, and is the recipient of five honorary doctorates.

Last Updated: 2004-09-08 Back to Top Important Notices