I salute Professor Irwin Cotler, an extraordinary human rights leader and outstanding parliamentarian. May he continue to go from strength to strength.



Ottawa – February 5, 2014 – Longtime Liberal MP Irwin Cotler today announced that he will not be a candidate in the next election, stating “I have enjoyed the honour and privilege of serving my riding, Parliament, and the Canadian people as a whole for close to fifteen years. I look forward to completing my mandate and continuing the pursuit of justice in other arenas.”

Explained Cotler, “When I first ran in 1999, I viewed coming to Parliament as a temporary sabbatical from being a law professor and human rights lawyer; however, given the support and encouragement of my family, constituents, and Parliamentary colleagues, I continued to serve in Parliament, which I consider to be one of the highest forms of public service. Later, Prime Minister Paul Martin invited me to join his cabinet as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. I am particularly proud of my time as Minister, during which I introduced Canada’s first law to combat human trafficking, crafted the Civil Marriage Act – landmark legislation that extended marriage equality to gays and lesbians while at the same time guaranteeing religious freedom – and made the quashing of wrongful convictions a priority.” Cotler was also the first Minister of Justice to democratize the process of appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In Opposition, Prof. Cotler remains a very active Parliamentarian, introducing numerous bills and motions annually. Said Cotler, “It is a privilege and an honour to serve in Opposition as well, working with Members of all parties to advance the causes of justice and human rights for all.” Cotler’s initiatives have included both international and domestic concerns, including: chairing the Save Darfur Parliamentary Coalition; founding and leading Iran Accountability Week; promoting compliance with the Charter of Rights and the rule of law; protecting women’s rights, minority rights, and the rights of Aboriginal Canadians; and,  seeking to ensure evidence-based public policy in the matter of criminal justice.

Continued Cotler, “I will remain a vocal and engaged Member of Parliament serving constituents until the next general election. Beyond that, I look forward to remaining active in public life, lecturing and writing on the issues of the day, advancing the causes of human rights and international justice, and advocating on behalf of political prisoners – efforts in which I have been engaged for over thirty-five years.” He concluded, “I would be remiss if I did not thank as well the staff, interns, and volunteers who have served me so ably over the years, and am most appreciative for their devotion and hard work.”


Biographical Highlights

Prof. Cotler was first elected to Parliament in 1999 with 92% of the vote.  As Minister of Justice and Attorney General, he helped transform the face of the judiciary through the appointment of two outstanding women justices to the Supreme Court of Canada – making the Supreme Court of Canada the most gender representative Supreme Court in the world, while also appointing the first aboriginal justice and first visible minority justice to an appellate court.

While Minister, Cotler introduced Canada’s first-ever human trafficking legislation as well as legislation for the protection of children and other vulnerable persons. He also initiated Canada’s first prosecution under the War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity Act, while spearheading the first-ever National Justice Initiative Against Racism and Hate.

Cotler played an instrumental role in ensuring the inclusion of civil liberties protections in the Anti-Terrorism Act and later as Minister initiated the first prosecution under this legislation. He has been a vocal advocate for international justice and genocide prevention, and the promotion and implementation of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine.

Though Cotler served as Minister for only a short time, he quashed more wrongful convictions in a single year than any prior Minister, notably in the case of Steven Truscott. And, as part of his commitment to equality and human rights, he crafted the Civil Marriage Act, legislation that granted marriage equality to gays and lesbians while protecting religious freedom.

As an active global parliamentarian, Prof. Cotler has chaired international groups such as the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran, the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Interparliamentary Group, and the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism.

Prior to serving in Parliament, Prof. Cotler was a law professor at McGill University (where he is now Professor Emeritus), and was also a visiting professor at Harvard University and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Yale Law School. A noted advocate for civil liberties, Cotler has litigated every section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including landmark cases in free speech, freedom of religion, women’s rights, minority rights, war crimes justice, prisoners’ rights, and peace law.

As well, Cotler has served as counsel to numerous prisoners of conscience around the world, including Nelson Mandela, Natan Sharansky, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, and Jacobo Timerman. He is the recipient of 10 honorary doctorates and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.