Irwin Cotler accepts Law Society’s first Human Rights Award

Posted: 02/12/2015

Human Rights Award event 2015Advocate, parliamentarian and academic Irwin Cotler was today recognized as the first-ever recipient of the Law Society’s Human Rights Award.

Click here to read Treasurer Minor’s congratulatory remarks.

More than 250 guests were welcomed at Osgoode Hall in Toronto to celebrate the accomplishments of Mr. Cotler whose advocacy around the protection of human rights and the rule of law has won him respect throughout Canada and the world.

Click here to watch a video of the entire Award ceremony.

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin applauds creation of award and ‘wonderful’ first recipient

Speaking from Montreal earlier this week, former Prime Minister Paul Martin recalled visiting South Africa during apartheid and being asked frequently if Mr. Cotler was his compatriot.

“I spent much time in the developing world long before I met Irwin, and wherever I went I was asked as a Canadian did I know him?,” Mr. Martin said.

“His was one of the first names I heard when I went to Africa as people would talk to me of his fight against apartheid on the one hand and human trafficking on the other. And those are only two examples of his reach.

“As a law school graduate and one-time member of the Bar, I am very proud of the Law Society for having created this award.

“I think it’s a wonderful initiative and what makes it even more so is the person they’ve chosen to be the first recipient.”

Mr. Cotler is the member of parliament for Mount Royal, Quebec and is familiar to Canadians as a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada appointed under Paul Martin.

He is also an emeritus professor of law at McGill University and an international human rights lawyer.

Mr. Cotler represented Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters during apartheid and dissidents Andrei Sakharov and Nathan Sharansky in the former Soviet Union.

Further details around Mr. Cotler’s international human rights advocacy are outlined here.

Chair of HRMG lauds Cotler for his dedication to upholding rule of law

Law Society bencher Paul Schabas, chair of the Law Society’s Human Rights Monitoring Group (HRMG), lauded Mr. Cotler’s dedication to a cause as significant as the rule of law.

Click here to read Mr. Schabas’ remarks at the ceremony.

“He’s been active at every level as an advocate, as an academic, as a politician in fighting for human rights and fighting to uphold the rule of law,” Mr. Schabas said.

“You would be hard-pressed to find anybody anywhere with as long a resume as Irwin Cotler has for speaking out for justice and the rule of law.”

In the eight years since it formed, the Law Society’s HRMG has issued more than 75 interventions on behalf of members of the legal profession and judiciary.

Most lawyers and judges on whose behalf the HRMG has sent letters have been persecuted, harassed, imprisoned and in some cases killed.

“The rule of law is fragile around the world and if we don’t speak out about it where we see it threatened elsewhere, who’s going to speak out about if it comes to our door?,” Mr. Schabas said.

“The Law Society has the resources — and it doesn’t take much — and the credibility to look into these issues and to speak out on them. So why shouldn’t we?”

Further details of the HRMG’s work are available here.

McMurtry congratulates Cotler

Acknowledging Mr. Cotler’s initiatives, The Hon. R. Roy McMurtry wrote:

“I am delighted to have the opportunity to congratulate The Hon. Irwin Cotler for his richly deserved receipt of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s first Human Rights Award.

“I have had the privilege and pleasure of knowing Mr. Cotler for many years and am very familiar with his distinguished reputation as one of Canada’s leading human rights advocates.

“He has graced the parliament of Canada as a minister of justice and member of parliament and his recent decision not to again be a candidate federally is a most unfortunate loss to the people of Canada and elsewhere.

“As the director of McGill’s Human Rights Program from 1973 until 1999, he was a familiar face and important presence at many international Human Rights forums which helped shape Canada’s reputation as a leading advocate for human rights.”

Rae celebrates Cotler

Lawyer and former politician Bob Rae echoed enthusiasm for the causes to which Mr. Cotler has dedicated his life:

“I know of no better advocate, parliamentarian or friend to the causes of social justice and civil liberties. Irwin Cotler is in a league of his own,” Mr. Rae said.

In recognizing Mr. Cotler as the first recipient of the Human Rights Award, the Law Society underlines human rights advocacy and the protection of the rule of law as paramount to the integrity of Canada’s justice system and those abroad.

Through Mr. Cotler’s work and that of others like him, Canadians may have access to the justice they are afforded under the Constitution.

“Irwin Cotler’s international reputation is a matter of great pride for Canadians,” Mr. Martin said.

“His drive for human rights has been crucial in the debates within our country. However, that same concern has proven to be just as important, if not more, in the debates outside our borders. It was an honour for me to have served in government with him.”