Hon. Irwin Cotler
Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights & an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University
Irwin Cotler is the Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and longtime Member of Parliament, and an international human rights lawyer.
A constitutional and comparative law scholar, Professor Cotler is the author of numerous publications and seminal legal articles and has written upon and intervened in landmark Charter of Rights cases in the areas of free speech, freedom of religion, minority rights, peace law and war crimes justice.
As Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Irwin Cotler initiated the first-ever comprehensive reform of the Supreme Court appointment process and helped make it the most gender-representative Supreme Court in the world; appointed the first-ever aboriginal and visible minority justices to the Ontario Court of Appeal; initiated the first-ever law on human trafficking; crafted the Civil Marriage Act, the first-ever legislation to grant marriage equality to gays and lesbians; issued Canada’s first National Justice Initiative Against Racism and Hate; quashed more wrongful convictions in a single year than any prior Minister, and made the pursuit of international justice a government priority.
A leading Parliamentarian on the global stage, he has been Chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran; Chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Group of Justice for Sergei Magnitsky; Chair of the All-Party Save Darfur Parliamentary Coalition; Chair, Canadian section, of the Parliamentarians for Global Action and Member of its international council.
An international human rights lawyer, Professor Cotler has served as Counsel to prisoners of conscience including Andrei Sakharov & Nathan Sharansky (former Soviet Union), Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Jacobo Timmerman (Latin America), Professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim (Egypt) and he was Chair of the International Commission of Inquiry into the Fate and Whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg. He was a Member of the International Legal Team of Chinese Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, and more recently became international legal counsel to imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo López, and Shi’ite Cleric Ayatollah Boroujerdi in Iran. A feature article on him in Canada’s national magazine – Maclean’s – referred to him as “Counsel for the Oppressed”, while the Oslo Freedom Forum characterized him as “Freedom’s Counsel.”
He is the recipient of thirteen honorary doctorates, where he has been recognized as “a scholar and advocate of international stature” (as cited in his various honorary doctorates). He has been named an Officer of the Order of Canada, an Officer of the National Order of Quebec, and is the recipient also of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He has been awarded the Canadian Bar Association’s President’s Award; was the first Canadian recipient of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation’s Centennial Medal; the first recipient of the Romeo Dallaire Award for Human Rights Leadership; the recipient of the Sir Zafrullah Khan Award for Distinguished Public Service; the recipient of the Dalhousie University 2015 Ethical Leadership Award; and one of the recipients of the 2015 Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Award.
He was elected 2014 Canadian Parliamentarian of the Year by his colleagues, and in 2015 received the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Inaugural Human Rights Award. In its citation, the Law Society recognized “The Honourable Irwin Cotler’s tireless efforts to ensure peace and justice for all. In his varied roles as law professor, constitutional and comparative law scholar, international human rights lawyer, counsel to prisoners of conscience, public intellectual, peace activist, Member of Parliament, and Minster of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Mr. Cotler has been a leader and role model. Through his advocacy work both in Canada and internationally, he has transformed the lives of many”.