Irwin Cotler told those at the launch of the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy’s Pursuing Justice Project on March 31 that his current focus is the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights in Montreal. (photo by Dave Gordon)
Irwin Cotler was honored on March 31 for his dedication to human rights activism. Attendees at the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy event learned how Jewish values drove, and intersected, with Cotler’s career in pursuing justice.
“My father used to say to me: the pursuit of justice is equal to all the commandments combined. This is what you must teach to your children,” said Cotler.
The gala at Toronto’s Omni King Edward Hotel served to launch the Pearson Centre’s Pursuing Justice Project, “which is focused on increasing the understanding of Canadians about justice, diversity and inclusion.” The centre describes itself as a centrist think tank, addressing policy issues related to justice, health and social services, with the goal “to engage Canadians in an active dialogue about a progressive future for Canada.”
Among the speakers offering introductory remarks at the launch were former prime ministers John Turner and, via video, Paul Martin.
“John Turner had the temerity to give me my first job out of law school,” Cotler shared.
In addition to serving as Liberal member of Parliament for Mount Royal in Montreal from 1999 to 2015, Cotler also served as federal minister of justice and attorney general during his career.
In a discussion with Indira Naidoo-Harris, Liberal member of the Legislative Assembly for Halton, Ont., Cotler spoke about a 10-year-old idea that never bore fruit, wherein justice ministers from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt all agreed to convene with Canada’s justice minister, in Canada, to foster dialogue. A “justice summit” he dubbed it, “which I hoped would have a peace dividend.”
He would like the Trudeau government to revive the concept, because “educating each other in the culture of peace is important,” Cotler told the Independent. Palestinian incitement, in contrast, “is a threat to peace in the Middle East, threatens Palestinians’ right to self-determination … and glorifies terrorism.”
As an international human rights lawyer, Cotler served as counsel to many high-profile political prisoners, including South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Israel’s Natan Sharansky, who was released from a decade in the Soviet gulag 30 years ago February, and became a member of the Knesset and an author.
Both former prisoners were beacons of “hope and the vision and the inspiration,” with respect to “two of the great human rights struggles of the second half of the 20th century,” Cotler remarked.
The release of political prisoners, he added, is “such an overriding commandment that you’re allowed to breach the Sabbath” to free them.
Cotler’s current undertaking is growing the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights in Montreal, which he founded. Among its many objectives, he told the Independent, are “promoting human dignity, combating racism, hatred and antisemitism, and defending political prisoners.”
Dave Gordon is a Toronto-based freelance writer and the managing editor of landmarkreport.com.