Cotler, Irwin

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COTLER, IRWIN (1940– ) Canadian professor of Law, human rights activist, Jewish communal leader, and politician. Cotler was born in Montreal. He studied law at McGill University and did graduate work at Yale University. Returning to Canada, Cotler accepted an appointment at Osgood Law School in Toronto and, at the same time, became a special assistant to John Turner, federal minister of justice. In 1973 Colter moved to McGill Law School to teach international and human rights law.

Active in Canadian and Jewish affairs, he was counsel to the Deschenes Commission of Inquiry in the matter of bringing Nazi war criminals in Canada to justice, a member of the International Commission of Inquiry into the Fate and Whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg, and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Active in Canadian Jewish life. In the early 1980s Cotler served as president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. A Zionist and advocate of Middle East rapprochement, Cotler helped found Canadian Professors for Peace in the Middle East and long worked to promote a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. As a passionate champion of human rights, Cotler served as legal council to many prisoners of conscience including Andrei Sakharov, Nelson Mandela, Jacob *Timmerman, and Natan *Sharansky. In 2003 Cotler helped win acquittal for Egyptian democracy advocate Saad Ibrahim, imprisoned by Egyptian authorities.

Asked to become a candidate for the federal Liberal Party, in 1999 Colter easily won election in the heavily Jewish Montreal riding of Mount Royal and was twice reelected. Passed over for cabinet office by former prime minister Jean Chretien, Coster was appointed in 2003 by newly installed prime minster Paul Martin as justice minister and attorney-general of Canada. Among his first and more controversial tasks, Cotler had to deal with the thorny issues of legalization of gay marriage, the decriminalization of marijuana, and the monitoring of the federal government's application of its anti-terrorism legislation.

Cotler's wife, Ariela, was no stranger to the political world, having worked in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Menaḥem *Begin.

[Harold Troper (2nd ed.)]