Irwin Cotler, human rights activist, leaving Canadian Parliament
Former president of Canadian Jewish Congress says Israel should not be a 'wedge issue.'
Irwin Cotler, a member of the Parliament in Canada and a prominent human rights activist, said he will not seek re-election.
“I have enjoyed the honor and privilege of serving my riding, Parliament, and the Canadian people as a whole for close to 15 years,” Cotler said in a statement released on Wednesday, with riding the parlance for political district in Canada. “I look forward to completing my mandate and continuing the pursuit of justice in other arenas.”
Cotler, a former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, was first elected in the Montreal district of Mount Royal in 1999 with 92 percent of the vote. The Liberal Party member was re-elected in the ensuing five federal elections.
In 2011 when he was returned to office, Cotler made it clear it would be his last four-year term. He turns 74 in May; the next election is in October 2015.
“When I first ran in 1999, I viewed coming to Parliament as a temporary sabbatical from being a law professor and human rights lawyer,” Cotler noted in his statement. “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.”
His district is about 36 percent Jewish — the second highest concentration of Jews in a Canadian riding. His Parliament seat was held at one time by the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
He garnered just 41 percent of the vote in the last election.
“I did lose the Jewish vote last time. I won with the non-Jewish vote,” he told CBC News.
Cotler has spoken out frequently for Israel and warned often of nuclear threats from Iran. He chaired international groups such as the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran and the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism.
“What I was concerned about, in the matter of, let’s say, the Israel issue, is that it was made a wedge issue,” he told the CBC. “It should not be a wedge issue.”
During his tenure as justice minister from 2003 to 2006, Cotler introduced Canada’s first 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 National Justice Initiative Against Racism and Hate.
Cotler has served as counsel to numerous prisoners of conscience around the world, including Nelson Mandela, Natan Sharansky and Jacobo Timerman.