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Prime Minister Trudeau Appoints Irwin Cotler as Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance, and Combating Antisemitism

by Rhonda Spivak, Dec 1, 2020



On November 25, 2020 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau  named former Liberal Justice Minister and internationally-renown human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler as Canada's first ever special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism.


In an interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Cotler noted that "Between 1942 to January 1945, 1.3 million people were deported to the death camp of Auschwitz, which was the most brutal extermination camp of the 20th century. 1.1 million of them were Jews." 


Cotler continued, "Let's make no mistake about it, Jews were  murdered at Auschwitz because of antisemitism, but antisemitism did not die at Auschwitz and it remains the bloody canary in the mine shaft of global evil today. Ahmed Shaheed, U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief  has said 'Antisemitism is an assault on our common humanity.' And it therefore will require an international coalition of international coalition of conscience to combat it."


Other countries (i.e. France, Germany, Britain, the U.S., and  Italy) previously have created similar positions to Cotler's newly created position. Cotler indicated that he had "already spoken to the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Elan Carr, as well as the U.K.'s Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust issues, Lord Pickles."


Cotler told the Winnipeg Jewish  Review "One of my  intentions is to bring Special Envoys together to work in concert as a coalition for preserving Holocaust remembrance and antisemitism so we can pool our resources and create a certain synergy in our work." 


In announcing the appointment of Cotler, Prime Minister Trudeau's office issued a press release, which noted that "Jewish communities in Canada and around the world face rising antisemitism" and indicated that " The Government of Canada will always stand with the Jewish community, and fight the antisemitism, hatred, and racism that incites such despicable acts." 


The release also stated that " Mr. Cotler will lead the Government of Canada’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). He will work with other member countries and both domestic and international partners to strengthen and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research in Canada and around the world."


Canada adopted IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism as part of its anti-racism strategy on June 25,2019. "As Special Envoy, Mr. Cotler will also support advocacy and outreach efforts with Canadians, civil society, and academia to advance the implementation of this definition across the country and its adoption internationally," the release stated. 


Cotler told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that "I have just had my first meeting this morning morning [Nov. 27] with the Canadian Delegation to the IHRA plenary." 


Dr. Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) applauded the appointment of Cotler, saying "Irwin Cotler is the perfect choice for such a position and CISA has offered to help him in any way we can to advance knowledge about the Holocaust and the problem of antisemitism worldwide." 



Jeffery R. Rosenthal and Joel Reitman, Co-Chairs, of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Board of Directors also praised Cotler's appointment.


"Anti-Jewish racism is a cancer, and there is no one more qualified than Mr. Cotler to lead the fight against it on Canada's behalf on the international stage,” Jeffrey R. Rosenthal, Co-Chair, CIJA Board of Directors in a statement.


“Mr. Colter is a Canadian icon who has been tirelessly advocating for human rights for decades. Canada has demonstrated leadership by creating the position of special envoy, in discussion for months, and we are pleased Mr. Cotler was chosen to fill this important role,” Joel Reitman, Co-Chair, CIJA Board of Directors said in a statement.


The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center human rights advocacy group also welcomed the appointment. "At a time of rising anti-Semitism and dwindling awareness of the Holocaust, this initiative is more important than ever," the organization's president and CEO Michael Levitt said in a statement.


Cotler, age 80, is the founder and chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and emeritus professor of law at Montreal's McGill University.



According to the an article by the Canadian Press published in The National Post, "Cotler said Trudeau offered him the job this past summer. But they agreed to hold off announcing it until he could clear up other advocacy work, including on behalf of imprisoned activists in Iran and with an international commission that is trying to strengthen the legal protections for journalists who are increasingly under siege in the world."


Cotler told the Canadian Press that he has been advocating for the creation of the special envoy position for more than a decade, and had noted that other countries (i.e. France, Germany, Britain, the U.S., and  Italy) had created similar positions previously.


“Ironically, we are amongst the last to do this, though we were amongst the first to recognize the importance of Holocaust remembrance and education,” Cotler told the Canadian Press, as published in the National Post.



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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.