Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian politician and human-rights advocate, has been appointed as Canada’s special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism.

“We must never forget the painful lessons of the Holocaust, or the memories of those who lived through it, because anti-Semitism has no place in Canada, or anywhere else,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement announcing the appointment.

Calling the years of World War II and the Holocaust “one of the darkest chapters in history,” Trudeau noted that Jewish communities in Canada and around the world are facing a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents.

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

A renowned legal scholar, Cotler served as a member of the Canadian parliament for the Liberal Party from 1999 to 2015, including as a justice minister and attorney general.

As part of the position, he will lead the Canadian government’s delegation to the 34-member International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), while also working with Canadians, civil-society groups and academics. It will also enable Cotler to advance the adoption of the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism at institutions in Canada and internationally, such as at the United Nations.

Canada adopted the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism in 2019.

‘A much-needed seriousness’

Canadian Jewish groups welcomed the decision.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center human-rights advocacy group said the role is “tremendously important.”

“At a time of rising anti-Semitism and dwindling awareness of the Holocaust, this initiative is more important than ever,” Michael Levitt, president and CEO of the organization, said in a statement.

“This announcement is a major step forward in the fight against anti-Semitism in Canada and shows a much-needed seriousness in our government’s commitment to this promise,” said the organization’s CEO Michael Mostyn.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called Cotler an “icon” who has fought for human rights for decades.

“Anti-Jewish racism is a cancer, and there is no one more qualified than Mr. Cotler to lead the fight against it on Canada’s behalf on the international stage,” said Jeffrey Rosenthal, co-chair of CIJA’s board of directors.


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