On November 23rd, the Sauvé community and general public gathered together to listen to renowned human rights lawyer, Emeritus Professor of Law and former Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada, the Honourable Irwin Cotler, P.C., O.C. share his experiences as a life-long advocate for diversity, peace, justice and human rights.

Following welcoming remarks from Foundation President, Ion Valaskakis, 2011-12 Sauvé Fellow Sadia Rafiquddin presented the Jeanne Sauvé Forum’s distinguished guest, Professor Irwin Cotler.

A constitutional and comparative law scholar, Professor Cotler intervened in landmark Charter of Rights cases in the areas of free speech, freedom of religion, minority rights, peace law and war crimes justice. As Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Irwin Cotler initiated the first-ever comprehensive reform of the Supreme Court appointment process and helped make it the most gender-representative Supreme Court in the world; appointed the first-ever aboriginal and visible minority justices to the Ontario Court of Appeal; initiated the first-ever law on human trafficking; crafted the Civil Marriage Act, the first-ever legislation to grant marriage equality to gays and lesbians; issued Canada’s first National Justice Initiative Against Racism and Hate; quashed more wrongful convictions in a single year than any prior Minister, and made the pursuit of international justice a government priority. An international human rights lawyer, Professor Cotler serves as international legal counsel to imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo López, and Shi’ite Cleric Ayatollah Boroujerdi in Iran.

Throughout his talk, Professor Cotler emphasized the importance of defending cultural and ethnic rights while committing to celebrating diversity in all its form. He generously shared vignettes from his own personal and professional experiences, several of which highlighted the correlation between considering historical contexts and the pursuit of social justice. When he spoke about serving as Counsel to prisoners of conscience – such as Andrei Sakharov and Nathan Sharansky, Nelson Mandela, Jacobo Timmerman and Prof. Saad Eddin Ibrahim – Dr. Cotler acknowledged the interconnectedness of their cases: they were all public leaders fighting for democracy and equality on a grand scale and have changed the course of history. Professor Cotler also stressed the importance of speaking on the behalf of current political prisoners, which is crucial in helping to secure their release.

“Wherever we are, we are the guarantors of our each other’s destinies.” – The Honourable Irwin Cotler

Furthermore, Professor Cotler stated that constitutional values and rights are essential in fostering public leadership and honouring diversity in Canada. He recognized the interdependence between human rights and grassroots movements, linking equality rights with women’s movements and aboriginal rights with the work of diverse indigenous groups. Moreover, he discussed his plans to launch the “Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights” in memory of Raoul G. Wallenberg (1912-1945), a Swedish humanitarian widely celebrated for saving tens of thousands of people in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust.

Following Professor Cotler’s speech, the audience was encouraged to ask questions, which centered on human rights issues in Tibet, Saudi Arabia and Guantanamo Bay. After an energizing Q&A, 2009-10 Sauvé Fellow and survivor of the Rwandan Genocide, Éloge Butera who offered inspiring closing remarks: “To do good in the world means valuing every single human being.”

For photos of “An Evening with Irwin Cotler: Promoting Justice, Human Rights and Peace through Public Leadership”, click here.

The Foundation would like to thank Professor Cotler, our guests, new friends, community members, Fellows, staff and volunteers for making this an unforgettable public event.

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