Biography

Irwin Cotler
Honorary Chair
Member of Parliament, Retired (Canada)

Irwin Cotler is Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and longtime Parliamentarian, and recent Founder and International Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

A constitutional and comparative law scholar, Professor Cotler 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, he initiated the first-ever law on human trafficking; crafted the first ever marriage equality legislation; headed the Canadian delegation to the Stockholm Conference on the Prevention and Combating of Genocide; and made the pursuit of international justice a priority for Canada, including initiating the first ever prosecutions for incitement to genocide and the commission of mass atrocity crimes in Rwanda.

An international human rights lawyer, he has served as counsel to prisoners of conscience including Andrei Sakharov and Natan Sharansky (Soviet Union), Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim (Egypt) and, more recently, imprisoned Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, and the imprisoned Baha’i leadership in Iran. He was also a member of the International Commission of Inquiry On the Fate and Whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg. 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.”

Professor Cotler is an Officer of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian award. Among his recent honours, he was the first Canadian recipient of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation’s Centennial Medal; the first recipient of the Roméo Dallaire Award for Human Rights Leadership; was elected 2014 Canadian Parliamentarian of the Year by his colleagues; and 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”.