Irwin Cotler named special envoy for Holocaust remembrance, fighting anti-Semitism

Amid reports of rising antisemitism around the world, the federal government has named former Liberal justice minister and internationally known human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler as Canada’s special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combatting antisemitism.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the appointment today, stating that the government is committed to strengthening Canada’s efforts to advance education, research and remembrance at home and abroad.

“We must never forget the painful lessons of the Holocaust, or the memories of those who lived through it,” Trudeau said in a statement. 

“Because anti-Semitism has no place in Canada, or anywhere else.”

Rising anti-Semitism

The position is not paid, but expenses incurred for the role will be reimbursed, according to the PMO.

Calling the Holocaust “one of the darkest chapters in human history,” a government news release said Jewish communities in Canada and around the world are facing rising anti-Semitism 75 years after the liberation of Nazi concentration and extermination camps revealed the full horrors of the Holocaust.

“The government of Canada will always stand with the Jewish community, and fight the anti-Semitism, hatred and racism that incites such despicable acts,” the release reads. 

“We will also continue to preserve the stories of survivors through younger generations, and work to promote and defend pluralism, inclusion, and human rights.”

The PMO pointed to Cotler’s record on fighting racism and anti-Semitism and experience in defending human rights through justice cases including those related to mass atrocities.

Appointment welcomed

Cotler will lead the government’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), working with 33 other member countries while reaching out to Canadians, civil society groups and academics.

Human rights advocacy group Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center welcomed the appointment, calling the role “tremendously important.”

“At a time of rising antisemitism 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.

Levitt said it’s critical that Cotler have a mandate that includes responsibility for implementing the IHRA working definition of antisemitism in institutions across Canada and internationally, including at the United Nations and other international institutions, Levitt said.