Under PM Stephen Harper, Canada has been supportive of Israel for several years now. In the recent election, he and his Conservative party were rewarded in several ridings where they beat Liberal candidates, among them Jewish ones, thanks to Jewish voters. However, in Canada, Jews are far from a significant voting bloc so that it may actually be costing the Conservatives to be as supportive as they are of Israel. It probably cost Canada a seat on the UN Security Council last year, as has been acknowledged by Harper himself. It seems, however, that unlike many of the other leaders of the West, Harper is conducting his campaign not only because of political expediency, but a clear-eyed understanding of what is taking place around the world with respect to Israel and of the moral obligation of those who can do so to contend with this phenomenon. Here is what Harper said recently to the second annual conference of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism, held in Ottawa, Canada.

“But of course we must also combat anti-Semitism beyond our borders, an evolving, global phenomenon. And we must recognize, that while its substance is as crude as ever, its method is now more sophisticated.

Harnessing disparate anti-Semitic, anti-American and anti-Western ideologies, it targets the Jewish people by targeting the Jewish homeland, Israel, as the source of injustice and conflict in the world, and uses, perversely, the language of human rights to do so.

We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is. Of course, like any country, Israel may be subjected to fair criticism. And like any free country, Israel subjects itself to such criticism — healthy, necessary, democratic debate. But when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack — is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand. Demonization, double standards, delegitimization, the three D’s, it is the responsibility of us all to stand up to them.

And I know, by the way, because I have the bruises to show for it, that whether it is at the United Nations, or any other international forum, the easy thing to do is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israeli rhetoric, to pretend it is just being even-handed, and to excuse oneself with the label of ‘honest broker.’ There are, after all, a lot more votes, a lot more, in being anti-Israeli than in taking a stand. But, as long as I am Prime Minister, whether it is at the UN or the Francophonie or anywhere else, Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost. And friends, I say this not just because it is the right thing to do, but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well if we listen to it, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are a threat to all of us.

Earlier I noted the paradox of freedom. It is freedom that makes us human. Whether it leads to heroism or depravity depends on how we use it.

As the spectre of anti-Semitism spreads, our responsibility becomes increasingly clear. We are citizens of free countries. We have the right, and therefore the obligation, to speak out and to act. We are free citizens, but also the elected representatives of free peoples. We have a solemn duty to defend the vulnerable, to challenge the aggressor, to protect and promote human rights, human dignity, at home and abroad. None of us really knows whether we would choose to do good, in the extreme circumstances of the Righteous. But we do know there are those today who would choose to do evil, if they are so permitted. Thus, we must use our freedom now, and confront them and their anti-Semitism at every turn.

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  • I’m confused about the message middle is trying to put across here. The post is worded as if you are disappointed and Harper’s stance is bad for Canada and Harper’s party.
    However, in Canada, Jews are far from a significant voting bloc so that it may actually be costing the Conservatives to be as supportive as they are of Israel.

    There has been so much written about Harper and the Conservatives’ pro-Israel platform, this post does no justice to that at all.

  • I’m saying that it is uncertain whether Harper’s support reaps large political dividends and that these dividends are apparently not what motivates him with respect to his position on Israel. His stance on this issue stems from moral/ethical considerations. This post is about as pro-Harper as you can get. As far as I’m concerned, the Conservatives in Canada deserve every Jewish vote.

  • I think it’s great that you agree with Mr. Harper’s position on Israel, and I’m glad you found your position represented in some form. However, your headline is hilarious. The 60% of Canadians that didn’t vote for Stephen Harper and who created websites like projectdemocracy.com, shitharperdid.com, which aimed to advertise an “Anything But Conservative” campaign would greatly disagree with your headline. While on the foreign stage he’s done better, on the domestic stage we tend to disagree with Steve’s “morals.”

    • Of course there is much that is problematic with the Conservative platform. To say the least. But that ought not prevent us from giving credit where credit is due when they get something right. How rare is it to see a politician take a principled stand on an issue, any issue, when he or she knows that it comes at the expense of votes? The next four years are going to be interesting and I encourage the NDP to energetically fulfill their role as her Majesty’s loyal opposition. I would also urge the NDP to not make support of Israel a partisan issue. Harper’s stance in this respect is nuanced, considered and praiseworthy.

    • Well, Modern Girl, you know how it works in a parliamentary system, right? Harper not only held on for years in a coalition, but has now won an outright majority. Maybe it’s because his morality impresses a majority of voters, and maybe it’s because his morality includes avoiding massage parlors. I don’t know, I’m just a writer of comic headlines.

  • “…Conservative party were rewarded in several ridings where they beat Liberal candidates, among them Jewish ones, thanks to Jewish voters.” One riding the Conservatives didn’t get was Mount Royal where former Liberal Justice Minister and Jerusalem Prize recipient Irwin Cotler hung on by under 3000 votes. Of course how could Cotler lose? Didn’t he represent Nelson Mandela and Anatoly Scharansky? Cotler is a Jewish leader but more importantly, he is the moral voice of International humanitarian law! The problem is that his future biographers are going to have a dickens of a time finding actual references to the work he did for Mandela and Scharansky, both of whom have written long and extensive biographies and neither of whom have seen fit to mention MP Cotler. Not even once. What’s that all about?

    • Sorry, I don’t know enough about Cotler to speak for him, but it could simply be that he was among many other lawyers who were on teams that represented Mandela and Sharansky. It happens all the time, especially in politically charged pro-bono cases that involve a lot of legal footwork. Various lawyers from all walks of life volunteer for the project and assist in various ways. Some have direct access to the player in question and some don’t. That doesn’t preclude those who worked on the case from taking credit for their efforts.

    • Apologies, @themiddle, but that was a loaded question. Just about every mention of MP Cotler cites his very important work on behalf of Mandela and Scharansky. The fact that he isn’t mentioned at all in any of their biographies could lead one to understand that he was part of an international group of essentially self-appointed advocates, doing nonetheless important work on behalf of these prisoners of conscience. It’s just that when one thinks of a lawyer and a client, one thinks of a fairly close and intimate relationship and that was clearly not the case here. If one were cynical, one might note that Cotler certainly milked this tenuous relationship to the max, but one would have to be very cynical to do so. Do however note that this issue, ie the exact nature of his relationship with Mandela and Scharansky, was scrubbed right off of his Wikipedia entry.

      Hopefully, the Liberals will do better next election and Cotler can get another cabinet post, or Mr. Cotler can retire and move to Israel where he can use his spare time to help other prisoners of conscience.

      As for me, I am going to send a letter to the Chinese government asking for better shower facilities for dissident artist Ai Weiwei. Afterwards, I am going to tell everyone who asks that Weiwei is a client of my plumbing business! I’ll do the same thing for Aung San Suu Kyi. It’ll be great to have a Nobel Laureate as my client!

  • Well, since we’re here busy detecting BS, I think I would personally find it obnoxious to have a person compare the struggle against apartheid to the struggle for better living conditions for an opponent of a heinous regime. Moreover, since this would be your first and only endeavor in terms of human rights activism, I’m afraid that you’d be hard-pressed to receive the type of recognition that Cotler receives from many human rights organizations.

    Point being that I get it, you want to minimize the man’s achievements, but your case isn’t all that strong because, A. he probably was involved in helping those two important historical figures, even if he wasn’t a main player; B. he’s been involved in this form of activism for a significant part of his career; C. I don’t hold much when it comes to Wikipedia, but since you brought it up, we can quote the following:

    Cotler has served on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and its sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Development, as well as on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. In 2000, he was appointed special advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the International Criminal Court.

    He is considered an expert on international law and human rights law. As an international human rights lawyer, Cotler served as counsel to former prisoners of conscience Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Jacobo Timmerman in Latin America, Muchtar Pakpahan in Asia, as well as other well known political prisoners and dissidents.

    Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian democracy activist imprisoned by the Egyptian government, was represented by Cotler and acquitted in 2003. He acted as counsel to Maher Arar during part of Arar’s imprisonment and supported demands for a public inquiry. He has also defended both Palestinians and Israelis against their own governments, and participated in a minor role in the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

    In 1986 he was chief counsel to the Canadian Jewish Congress at the Deschênes Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals.

    Cotler is on the Board of Advancing Human Rights (NGO).[2]


    Cotler is a professor of law at McGill University [on leave] and the director of its Human Rights Program from 1973 until his election as a Member of Parliament in 1999. He is also Chair of InterAmicus, the McGill-based International Human Rights Advocacy Centre


    a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Yale Law School and is the recipient of nine honorary doctorates


    He was appointed in 1992 as an Officer of the Order of Canada. He is a past president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.


    D. And from his official bio, presumably pored over by reporters for well over a decade now:

    As Minister of Justice, Cotler tabled Canada’s first-ever National Justice Initiative Against Racism, in parallel with the government’s National Action Plan Against Racism.


    He is Chair [and founder] of the All-Party Save Darfur Parliamentary Coalition.


    He headed the Canadian Delegation to the Stockholm International Forum on the Prevention of Genocide.


    As Minister of Justice and Attorney General, he helped transform the face of the judiciary … making the Supreme Court of Canada the most gender representative Supreme Court in the world, while appointing the first ever visible minority and aboriginal justices to appellate courts. He also initiated legislation for the Protection of Children and other Vulnerable Persons; the first ever legislation to criminalize trafficking in persons; made the pursuit of international justice a priority, including, in particular, the combating of mass atrocity and genocide; initiated the first ever prosecution under the Canadian War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act for incitement to genocide in Rwanda; issued the first ever National Justice Initiative Against Racism and Hate; and quashed more wrongful convictions in a single year than any prior Minister.


    A constitutional and comparative law scholar, he litigated every section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including landmark cases in the areas of free speech, freedom of religion, women’s rights, minority rights, war crimes justice, prisoners’ rights, and peace law. He has testified as an expert witness on human rights before Parliamentary Committees in Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Norway, and Israel, and has lectured at major international academic and professional gatherings in America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

    There are also all kinds of tell-tale signs that Cotler is describing true events. For example, his official bio describes his legal efforts on behalf of Egyptian dissident Saad Ibrahim. Now, while it’s impossible to find information about his representation of Ibrahim, guess who came to McGill to give the prestigious Wallenberg lecture? Yup, Ibrahim. Who introduced him? Cotler. (http://www.mcgill.ca/reporter/36/11/ibrahim/). Likewise with Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka who is also one of the people Cotler’s bio claims had been defended by Cotler. They were both attendees at a human rights conference at McGill. You would think that had this been a lie by Cotler, that Soyinka wouldn’t stand for it. Instead, as a note of gratitude, it appears that he was happy to attend a conference at his protector’s university.

    I could go on, BSDetector, but at this point, and with only a fraction of the research that I can do having been completed, I think it’s safe to say that Cotler is indeed an important and internationally respected human rights advocate and that it is merit that has brought about the many accolades he has received.

    I know, I know, it’s tough being a BSDetector when you think you’ve got TheMiddle by the balls. Go off and spout your bullshit elsewhere, boychik.

  • No need to take that tone with me @themiddle. I am not trying to grab you by the balls and I would be happy to retract my insinuations in a nano-second if you or anyone could find me any information regarding the work that Cotler did for Mandela, Scharansky or, while we’re at it, Jacobo Timerman. It’s my understanding that Timerman’s release was arranged thanks to a personal intercession by none other than Henry Kissinger in 1978. I have yet to find any mention by Timerman of Cotler. By the way, has Jewlicious written a story about Héctor Timerman, Jacobo’s son, currently Argentina’s Foreign Minister? Before I get too distracted, please note that I didn’t once say that Cotler was an unimportant non-entity, or that he was a liar. I didn’t make any reference to Ibrahim or to Soyinka either. I started off by asking about Mandela and Scharansky and now I am asking about Timerman as well.

    If you dig really hard you might find reference to Cotler having been given power of attorney by Scharansky’s wife Avital. Dig further and you might also find that whatever connection Cotler had with Mandela may have been through his wife Winnie. Nelson and Winnie later got acrimoniously divorced so that might explain… something. But other than those tiny references found in the archives of the Montreal Gazette, I have yet to find anything. Not a mention, not a thank you, nothing. None of this means that Cotler didn’t work on their behalf, but rather, that whatever role Cotler played may have been quite minimal and that perhaps Cotler stretched the definition of “client” just a wee bit more than is usual.

    I’ll say it again, I will gladly, even joyfully, retract any and all of my insinuations upon presentation of any information that clarifies Cotler’s role with respect to Mandela, Scharansky and Timerman.

    Finally, just to stay on topic, PM Harper seems like a swell guy. I hope Medicare and Canada’s social safety net do not erode too much under his leadership, as that might be dangerous. Recall that these were first instituted by Tommy Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather. I wouldn’t want to anger Jack Bauer.

  • Ahh yes, the topic. After taking us way off topic, you’ve decided to pay lip service to the topic. Regarding your claims about Cotler, which are, according to you, not that he’s a liar or an unimportant entity, but, also according to you, suggesting that he’s the kind of person whose accomplishments could easily be equaled by any individual who writes a letter to improve the hygienic conditions of a Chinese prisoner. It seems to me that my last comment put the latter claim to rest and forced you to reconfigure your attack on him which led to your “he’s not a liar” comment, which is of course exactly what you’re insinuating.

    Again, I am no Cotler expert and don’t even know why an anti-Cotler troll entered this discussion. Heck, who could even imagine there are anti-Cotler trolls out there? Apparently they exist. I can imagine one of Cotler’s political opponents might be a sponsor, but it could also easily be a sponsor whose activities have fallen under Cotler’s many pro human rights commitments. Which are you, BSDetector?

    Either way, I encourage you to spend your life in more worthwhile activities than going around the internets attacking worthy people. You could begin, for example, by striving to improve the living conditions of malodorous internet trolls.

  • Uh oh, BSDetector, look what I just found:

    When Montreal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler was in South Africa, he was a keynote speaker at an event with President Jacob Zuma. Before they spoke, Cotler pressed the South African president to join Canada in condemning Iran. Each year at the UN, says Cotler, Canada condemns human rights violations in Iran and the resolution passes by a slim margin (by only one vote last year, the MP noted). South Africa has traditionally voted against the resolution. According to Cotler, “[Zuma] got up and said, ‘I want to say that professor Cotler made some very powerful persuasive arguments to me before we came out here to speak. So I am going to stay and hear his speech as well.’ ” Zuma had planned to leave right after he spoke. Cotler was in South Africa for speaking engagements, a trip that turned into a reunion of those who worked on Nelson Mandela’s legal defence, including Cotler. He also pressed Winnie Mandela, as “one heroine to another,” to take on the case of Burmese democracy crusader Aung San Suu Kyi. Cotler told Mandela her support could help free Suu Kyi from detention. (Suu Kyi was made an honorary Canadian citizen last year.) Cotler was recently joined on the Hill by his wife, Ariela Cotler, and his grandchildren, who got to see question period for the first time. “Is it always this noisy?” they asked him. “I didn’t want to tell them that was a quiet day,” Cotler told Capital Diary.

  • I have tried to keep this discussion civil. And I will continue to do so. I have no sponsor and I daresay that had I been eligible to vote in Cotler’s riding I would have voted for him over City Councillor Saulie Zajdel and High School teacher Jeff Itcush. This isn’t about anything other than the truth and even your latest post from Mcleans proves nothing, unfortunately.

    I suggested that Cotler’s connection to Nelson Mandela may have been via his wife Winnie. You’ll recall that Winnie and Nelson divorced after it came out that she had been unfaithful to him while he was incarcerated. Since then Winnie has been implicated in murder, violence and fraud and she was even refused a visa to visit Canada in order to attend a fundraiser. This is who Cotler considers a heroine?? Given all that, it’s no wonder Nelson Mandela has nothing to do with Cotler.

    In bio after bio Cotler is described as Mandela, Scharansky and Timerman’s lawyer. They are described as his clients. The implication is that he worked closely with them and in talking to others who have also read this oft repeated mantra, that is their understanding as well. And yet, not a single mention in Mandela’s very detailed biography. No mention at all in Scharansky’s. No mention by Timerman. No words of thanks, no public acknowledgement of a job well done.

    I’m not saying that Cotler did nothing on their behalf, but if his role was that of a supporter, an advocate on their behalf like hundreds and thousands of others who supported Mandela, Scharansky and Timerman, shouldn’t his bio reflect that? I’d have no issue if his bio read “Cotler has advocated on behalf of numerous high profile victims of human rights violations including Nelson Mandela, Anatoly Scharansky and Jacobo Timerman.” That would be fine and probably far more accurate. But everyone seems to think he had a close, personal, attorney-client relationship with these people and, despite looking and searching for weeks, I have yet to see any indication that this was the case.

    Again, I’d be thrilled to be shown otherwise. Believe me I have better things to do with my time and I’d happily lay this to rest once and for all.

  • No, BSDetector, little ol’ troll of mine, you are wrong and have been proven wrong. You were and continue to be dead wrong in minimizing Cotler’s contributions in general.

    You were wrong in claiming that he had nothing to do with Mandela’s (and the others’) defense, and then changed your claim when that approach was shown to be false. That’s when you came in with the Winnie Mandela story and the Sharansky story about being given power of attorney by Sharansky’s wife (which negates your contention in the first place).

    Then you were shown an article that proves that not only does Cotler move around in circles of the ANC leadership (and SA’s government once Mandela was let out of prison) but that he is respected, given the ear of the highest leadership and was given this respect in the context of a gathering of those who were involved in Mandela’s defense.

    Game. Set. Match.

    Seriously, go troll elsewhere. I’ve proven you wrong with minimal effort on my part.

  • Minimal effort is correct. Proven me wrong? Hardly. Look back at the discussion. I was the first one to mention a connection to Winnie Mandela. Not you. Why? Because I already read that article in McLeans. I told you, I spent a lot of time trying to find a detailed description as to the exact nature of the relationship between Cotler and his super star clients. Nothing that you’ve brought up with your minimal effort has answered any of the questions I have asked. I’ll ask them again – What was the exact nature of Cotler’s relationship with Mandela, Scharansky and Timerman? Is the description of the relationship as that of a lawyer and his clients perhaps a bit too liberal? You have yet to show me any mention by any of these gentlemen of their relationship to Cotler. This leads me to believe that Cotler was simply one of dozens, if not hundreds of people working on behalf of these prisoners of conscience.

    The notion that Cotler was Nelson Mandela’s lawyer might come as a bit of a surprise to Martin Garbus or George Bizos or Mohamed Iqbal Meer or Lord Joel Joffe… This link might point you in the right direction. I am reiterating my earlier point that I will take back any of my allegations or insinuations upon presentation of a direct relationship between Cotler and Mandela, Scharansky and Timerman.

  • BSDEtector writes:

    “Minimal effort is correct. Proven me wrong? Hardly. Look back at the discussion. I was the first one to mention a connection to Winnie Mandela. Not you. Why?”

    No, because your first comment was proven false and I listed the impressive achievements in his bio, you had to backtrack. The “exact nature” of Cotler’s relationship with his clients is irrelevant. All his bio states is:

    An international human rights lawyer, Professor Cotler served as Counsel to former prisoners of conscience in the former Soviet Union (Andrei Sakharov & Nathan Sharansky), South Africa (Nelson Mandela), Latin America (Jacobo Timmerman), and Asia (Trade Union Leader Muchtar Pakpahan). He later served as international legal counsel to imprisoned Russian environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin; Nigerian playwright and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka; the Chilean-Canadian group Vérité et justice in the Pinochet case; Chinese-Canadian political prisoner, Professor KunLun Zhang. More recently, he served as Counsel to the leading democracy advocate in the Arab world, Professor Saad Edin Ibrahim; and more recently, as International Legal Council to Shoaib Choudhury, a Muslim Bangladesh journalist presently charged with sedition, treason, and blaspheme for advocating nothing other than inter-faith dialogue and peace with Israel.

    It’s you who is trying to make him into some sort of liar as if writing that he is “counsel” to Sakharov, Sharansky and Mandela indicates that he was intimately involved with them.

    Since you’ve supposedly done extensive research on him, you know that virtually every place that mentions his relationship with well-known clients is quoting this bio or versions thereof. Still, you have tried calling him a liar or insinuating that he did not play an important role in defending at least 3 of the key people mentioned in the bio even though he simply claims he was counsel to them.

    You’ve already had to concede that he is indeed an important human rights activist and that he did more than the equivalent of writing a letter on somebody’s behalf. You magically, upon being challenged, admitted that you had found references to his work with Mandela and Sharansky but like any good troll, you then moved the goalposts. Suddenly it wasn’t a question of whether he was a human rights activist of note or whether he worked on these important cases as counsel, but rather whether he did anything meaningful on these cases.

    So I showed you the McLeans article, proving a close relationship between Cotler and Mrs. Mandela and the ANC leadership. So you changed tack again (like any good troll would) and tried to describe Cotler’s actions on behalf of Nelson into actions on behalf of the “murderer” Winnie.

    Now you’re moving the goalposts again. You demand to know what the nature of the relationship is between Cotler and his “star clients” (although he never refers to them in this way). Now remember, you wrote,

    “I will take back ANY of my allegations or insinuations upon presentation of a direct relationship between Cotler and Mandela, Sharansky and Timerman.”

    Well Mr. Troll, since all you seek is a presentation of a direct relationship between Cotler and his clients, I went digging around in some Hebrew news publications. Guess what I found?

    Wait, just to remind you of the benchmarks you’ve set…you wrote:

    “It’s just that when one thinks of a lawyer and a client, one thinks of a fairly close and intimate relationship and that was clearly not the case here. If one were cynical, one might note that Cotler certainly milked this tenuous relationship to the max, but one would have to be very cynical to do so.”

    Indeed. So I’m sure that as you wrote above, you will be overjoyed to learn that Cotler is a close friend of the Sharansky’s and ALWAYS visits their home when visiting Israel. Here is the article in question :

    הקשר של השר לישראל החל כבר לפני שנים רבות, והתהדק לאחר שהתחתן עם ישראלית, מי שהייתה מזכירתו של מנחם בגין. ביתם של בני הזוג קוטלר הפך לבית ישראלי שורשי, שממנו התנהלו מיטב המערכות למען זכויותיהם של יהודי ברית-המועצות, ובכלל זה המאבק הבינלאומי לשחרורו של נתן שרנסקי ושאר אסירי ציון. כיום מיודד קוטלר עד מאוד עם משפחת שרנסקי, וכל פעם שהוא מגיע ארצה, הוא מבקר בביתם בירושלים. הביקור הבא שלו אצלם אמור היה להיות בימים אלה ממש, שכן קוטלר התכוון, עוד בטרם התמנה לשמש שר, להשתתף בכנס הרצליה הנפתח היום. ואולם בעקבות מינויו הוא דחה את בואו, והבטיח לבני הזוג שרנסקי להגיע כנראה בשבוע הבא.

    Rough translation with Google Translate’s help:

    The couple’s (Cotler and his wife) home turned into one from which some of the finest battles for the the rights of Soviet Jews were led, including the international struggle for the release of Natan Sharansky and other Prisoners of Zion. Cotler is now very friendly with the family Sharansky, and every time he comes to Israel, he visits their home in Jerusalem. His next visit with the Sharanskys is meant to take place soon now. It was meant to take place before, but then he was appointed Minister and delayed his visit. He is now attending a conference in Herzliya (Israeli city) and has promised the Sharansky couple to visit them next week.

    Hey BSDetector, I know! Maybe he visits the Sharanskys regularly because Anatoly is wondering whether Cotler actually did anything on his behalf. Maybe he wants to thank him for that letter requesting more showers.

    Now git, troll.

  • @themiddle, you stated that “your first comment was proven false.” That’s simply not the case. My first comment written 05-29-11 stated that:

    “The problem is that his future biographers are going to have a dickens of a time finding actual references to the work he did for Mandela and Scharansky, both of whom have written long and extensive biographies and neither of whom have seen fit to mention MP Cotler. Not even once. What’s that all about?”

    Mandela’s minutely detailed, 528 page autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom” does not contain a single mention of Cotler. Cotler was 24 during the Rivonia trial! Sharansky’s autobiography, “Fear No Evil” in 464 pages, does not once mention Cotler in any capacity at all. My first comment remains fact, and easily verifiable fact at that!

    I never once said that Cotler was a liar. It’s just that Cotler’s association with Mandela and Sharansky is so often repeated that it has become a mantra of sorts: “Cotler served as Counsel…” I suspect that our only real bone of contention lies in our definition and understanding of what it means to be counsel. The common understanding is that of a pretty close, personal, attorney/client relationship – the kind that invokes an attorney/client privilege, the kind that involves the exchange of some kind of consideration, the kind that is most often manifested in representation in front of some kind of legal tribunal.

    None of these indices seem to have happened. Cotler, as far as I know, is not a member of the South African Bar. He is not licensed to practice law in the Soviet Union or Argentina. What does seem to have happened is that Cotler advocated on behalf of these individuals. He met with politicians and other individuals of note and contributed to the international awareness of their plight. His standing as a lawyer, albeit a Canadian one, probably gave him a certain measure of clout. His advocacy on behalf of Mandela, Sharansky, Timerman etc. is not in question, and never was. What is in question is whether such advocacy can be described within the context of an attorney/client relationship as it is commonly or even legally understood.

    What set me off originally was a conversation I had with a young Quebecois woman who was trying to explain to me the results of the most recent Canadian elections. Cotler’s close victory in what was considered the safest Liberal riding in Canada came up. As a Quebec nationalist, I didn’t expect her to have a positive opinion of Cotler, but that wasn’t the case. She positively glowed about him and the first thing she mentioned was that he had been the lawyer of Mandela and Sharansky. Having just finished reading Mandela’s autobiography, I noted no mention of Cotler. That’s when I started in on Google etc.

    I’m not out to attack Cotler or mess with his career. There are no nefarious forces at work here. I just think that the exact nature of his relationship with his superstar prisoner of conscience “clients” ought to be clearer to the public. I even understand the nature of advocacy on behalf of prisoners of conscience. Very little of it happens in a court of law and much of it involves a combination of behind the scenes, often secret negotiations and public advocacy, PR if you will. Add to that the fact that since many of these individuals are imprisoned and denied rights, those who work on their behalf may never meet or communicate with them until they are released. The point is that such advocacy can hardly be considered a legal relationship, barring evidence to the contrary. Why? Because you do not have to be a lawyer in order to support and act on behalf of a prisoner of conscience. Many people protested and wrote letters on behalf of refusenicks and on behalf of Nelson Mandela. Many people plead their cases one on one with various government officials. Some of these people were even lawyers, but how many of them would say that they acted as counsel for these prisoners of conscience? Only someone with a very, very broad interpretation of the meaning of counsel would do so.

    All you’ve shown me @themiddle is that Cotler, a Canadian MP and former Cabinet Minister is connected enough in South Africa to be in the same room as the President. I imagine any Canadian backbencher on a visit to SA can gain close proximity to the President. We also know that he is familiar with Winnie Mandela, and that’s if we accept the vague report from McLeans whose only source seems to be Cotler himself. We also know that according to an article that only exists in Google’s cache, Cotler and Sharansky supposedly have a warm personal relationship. None of these sources speak to Cotler’s professional relationship with Mandela or Sharansky, and you haven’t provided me with anything regarding Timerman.

    This isn’t a game @themiddle. I’m not trying to best you by any means. But if you’re going to put my suspicions to rest, you’re going to have to do a bit of a better job – and if you do I will be the first to congratulate you for your brilliant research skills, because so far, I have found nothing.

  • BSDetector, I commend you for continuing the game. You have admirable tenacity. However, 3/4 of what you’ve written, I had already covered in my first response to you:

    Sorry, I don’t know enough about Cotler to speak for him, but it could simply be that he was among many other lawyers who were on teams that represented Mandela and Sharansky. It happens all the time, especially in politically charged pro-bono cases that involve a lot of legal footwork. Various lawyers from all walks of life volunteer for the project and assist in various ways. Some have direct access to the player in question and some don’t. That doesn’t preclude those who worked on the case from taking credit for their efforts.

    Since then, you’ve moved the goalposts a number of times. You clearly stated that evidence of a personal relationship would satisfy you. I brought you an article from an Israeli publication that attests to a warm, personal relationship between one of the people you’ve mentioned and Cotler. The article also explains the roots of this relationship. You yourself brought up the power of attorney given Cotler by Sharansky’s wife which you found in the Montreal Gazette archives.

    These facts indicate a meaningful attorney-client relationship but since it doesn’t meet your objective of somehow discrediting Cotler, you merely shake your head and say this is insufficient.

    I, however, seeing the extensive advocacy efforts of this man during his career, the numerous awards received, the responsiveness of the people he lists as having been clients in attending conferences or human rights efforts in which he is involved, his access to these people on a personal level, and also knowing that a key complaint of yours (that everywhere you look his work as counsel for certain individuals is mentioned) is explained away by the nature of the Internet and people “borrowing” freely from other sources, can only conclude that Cotler did exactly what he is said to have done. Why would he lie about Mandela while being truthful about Sharansky? How could he attend high-level South Africa events with ANC leadership there and with his bio front and center for all to see if he was lying about what he did?

    I’m sorry, but the preponderance of evidence and circumstantial evidence makes your case extremely weak. In fact, I have already addressed your stated objective of finding some personal link between the client and the attorney. It’s just that you dismissed it because it didn’t fit your imagined conspiracy theory.

  • I hate trolls. So I too took some time to research bsdetector’s claims. I have a ton of respect for Irwin Cotler and the work that he has done on behalf of International humanitarian law and Israel. I’m from Montreal where he is revered as a saint practically! That’s why I hate to admit that the details of Cotler’s professional relationship with Mandela, Sharansky and Timerman are not easily found via Google. And I am a tenacious researcher! That being said, I think I can try to solve the problem… I live like a 10-minute walk from Sharansky’s office at the Jewish Agency. I easily run into him at least once a month. Furthermore both Sharansky and Cotler are going to be at the Presidential Conference in 2 weeks here in Jerusalem. I’ll just ask Sharansky about their professional relationship! And if I have a chance I will ask Cotler as well. I think this is all about semantics anyhow but I will be happy to settle this issue once and for all. So stay tuned I guess…

  • Why give the troll a victory?


    Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

    Mr. Speaker, I recently returned from a historic and moving trip to South Africa, where I met with the heroes of the anti-apartheid movement, including Winnie Mandela and now-President Jacob Zuma, as well as those with whom I was associated in the defence of Nelson Mandela— George Bizos and Albie Sachs—while returning to lecture at Wits University, where I was arrested in 1981 for advocating Nelson Mandela’s release.

    The anti-apartheid movement was an important part of my advocacy and of my identity for 20 years. This trip reunited me with my heroes, while reminding me of our imperatives domestically and internationally.

  • Here’s another circumstantial piece of evidence: book edited by Cotler with an important article by Albie Sachs who along with George Bizos was one of the key lawyers for Mandela. Do you suppose that Sachs would be agreeable to participating in a Cotler-led project (this was a conference with publication of the results) if Cotler was lying about his involvement on behalf of Mandela?


    He also gave Albie Sachs an award for his human rights activism. Do you think a man who lost a limb and an eye because of his anti-apartheid activism would agree to be given an award, in front of other anti-apartheid activists in a public forum by a man who was lying about taking part in Mandela’s defense?


  • More:

    This was an emotional visit for Cotler. He gave two public lectures, one to the South African Human Rights Commission on freedom of expression/hate speech and another at Wits University in Johannesburg. This was the site of his 1981 arrest for speaking out for the freedom of Nelson Mandela (then a ‘banned person’ in South Africa).

    Cotler went on to become Canadian counsel to Mandela and a part of the anti-apartheid movement and was instrumental as an MP in granting honourary Canadian citizenship to Mandela in 2001.


  • In the 1980s, Cotler was very active in the anti-apartheid movement, rallying international support for the imprisoned Mandela, who was not yet the symbol of apartheid injustice and figure of adulation that he later became (even Amnesty International did not yet recognize him as a political prisoner, claiming he advocated violence). On Cotler’s first visit to South Africa in 1981, he gave a talk at the University of Witwatersrand titled “If Sharansky why not Mandela?” in which he called for an international campaign for Mandela’s release, and was promptly arrested by South African police for daring to speak of the man who would become an international hero. Cotler was later a key figure in mobilizing universities around the world into divestment campaigns (the “mobilization of shame”), providing support to the anti-apartheid movement within South Africa itself, and developing a new constitution for a post-apartheid society.


  • More:

    Toronto Star | Feb. 18, 1986 | NEWS – Shcharansky-Mandela ‘trade’ rejected by Soviets, lawyer says

    Copyright 1986 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
    The Toronto Star

    February 18, 1986, Tuesday, FINAL EDITION

    SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A12

    LENGTH: 320 words

    HEADLINE: Shcharansky-Mandela ‘trade’ rejected by Soviets, lawyer says

    BYLINE: (CP)


    MONTREAL (CP) – South Africa had pressed Moscow for four years to release Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky in a bid to “buy” international goodwill, Shcharansky’s Montreal lawyer said yesterday.

    But Moscow firmly rejected any attempts by South Africa to link the freeing of Soviet dissidents with the release of black activist Nelson Mandela, jailed by South Africa 22 years ago, lawyer Irwin Cotler said.

    “South Africa got involved (in the Shcharansky case) four years ago because it saw a chance to make gains diplomatically and refurbish its image in the international community,” said Cotler, who also acts on Mandela’s behalf.

    “But the Soviet government would not permit a linkage,” Cotler told a news conference called one day after he returned from meetings in Jerusalem with Shcharansky.

    The freeing of Shcharansky last Tuesday sparked further speculation that South Africa will soon release Mandela, a leader of the banned African National Congress.

    South African President Pieter Botha has said he would free Mandela if the Soviet Union released Shcharansky and another prominent dissident, Andrei Sakharov, and if Angola released a South African army captain, Wynand du Toit, captured on a mission there.

    Cotler, a long-time human-rights activist who has had direct negotiations with Moscow and Johannesburg about jailed dissidents, said the only link that should be made between Mandela and Shcharansky is that “they are both metaphors for the human rights movements.”

    Apply pressure

    He said there are growing indications that elements of the South African government want to release Mandela, convicted of sabotage and trying to overthrow the government.

    Cotler called on Canada, the United States and other Western governments to pressure South Africa to free Mandela, saying governments free political prisoners only when it is in “their selfish interests to do so.”


  • SOURCE: Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union in Russian for abroad 0749 gmt (also in English 0948 gmt) 30 Aug 79; Text of commentary by Yuriy Kornilov headed “Why did Mr Cotler come to Moscow?” (SU/6200/i) (Punctuation as transmitted by Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union):

    Western, and in particular Canadian, information organs (in particular Radio Canada and the British BBC) are still propagating stories by a certain Irwin Cotler about alleged “violations of human rights” and the “incarceration of dissidents” in the USSR. These stories are nothing new, and it wouldn’t be worth drawing attention to them but for one thing – the writer of these fairy tales pretends to be a scientist who alleges that he himself all but became “a victim of groundless persecution” by the Soviet authorities. Who is this Cotler?

    This gentleman has actually been to Moscow recently. He came to the USSR as a member of a Canadian delegation to the Congress of the International Political Science Association. However, one would have searched for him in vain in the halls where the Association was meeting. The fact is that although he is listed as a member of the Canadian Association of Political Scientists, the last thing Cotler was interested in were scientific debates.

    When he came to Moscow, he wasted his time on quite different things. He tried to drag into the Congress shady characters who had nothing to do with political science; he made up anti-Soviet “petitions”; he searched out so-called “dissidents” in dark alleyways (in the hope that they might offer him some slanderous anti-Soviet fantasies); and he tried to pass himself off as a self-styled “lawyer”, who would virtually “review” certain cases in which the Soviet court had already passed sentences.

    Having failed to acquire the “materials” he needed in Moscow, Cotler decided to take trips to other places, flagrantly violating existing Soviet laws on the movement of foreigners. In this connection he was stopped and invited to leave Soviet territory. Well, what do you think? When he passed through the airport customs examination, bulky packages containing crude anti-Soviet fabrications were found on Cotler. To put it mildly, strange luggage for someone pretending to be a political scientist!

    Now that he is back home in Canada, this “scientist” for want of a better word, is distributing all kinds of anti-Soviet fairy tales, even stating that he intends to call a “press conference”. But what can Cotler tell people at this press conference? For all his shopworn slanderous inventions once again confirm one thing – this gentleman has used a scientific forum as a cover for visiting Moscow and afterwards appearing in the role of an anti-Sovieteer and slanderer. An unseemly role, it must be said!

    As for Cotler’s attempts to present himself in the USSR as some kind of “lawyer” one can only say that Soviet courts act strictly in accordance with the existing law in the USSR, which says among other things that the defendant must take part in the trial proceedings. All attempts by amateur “lawyers” from abroad to “amend” existing Soviet law and to interfere in Soviet legal procedure can hardly be seen otherwise than being out of place – if not provocative. And our hospitality does not extend to provocateurs.


  • Copyright 1991 The Jerusalem Post
    The Jerusalem Post

    October 4, 1991, Friday

    SECTION: News

    LENGTH: 310 words

    HEADLINE: Soviets may rehabilitate Sharansky, Yosef Begun


    MOSCOW – Soviet Procurator-General Nikolai Trubin has agreed to review the cases of Natan Sharansky, Yosef Begun and other former prisoners of Zion to determine if they should be officially rehabilitated, Canadian human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler said yesterday.

    MOSCOW – Soviet Procurator-General Nikolai Trubin has agreed to review the cases of Natan Sharansky, Yosef Begun and other former prisoners of Zion to determine if they should be officially rehabilitated, Canadian human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler said yesterday.

    Cotler said Sharansky, Begun, and other former clients, such as Vladimir Brodsky and Vladimir Slepak, had asked him to find out whether the government is prepared to accord them unconditional rehabilitation.

    According to Cotler, Trubin said the government has already rehabilitated Alexander Solzhenitsyn and numerous other exiled dissidents after deciding “their conduct at the time would have been legal under the today’s laws.”

    Told by Cotler that most of his clients were arrested under laws forbidding “anti-Soviet slander and agitation,” Trubin reportedly said: “In that case, there should be no problem.”

    Trubin warned that espionage charges brought against Sharansky in 1977 would be harder to resolve, but promised to check into the case, Cotler said.

    He also promised that his office would open a no-holds-barred investigation into Raoul Wallenberg’s fate. He said that in the past, the KGB and Communist Party had blocked his efforts to carry out such an investigation, but that was no longer the case.

    Earlier, Cotler received a similar commitment from Vadim Bakatin, the new chief of the KGB. Bakatin has promised the international team of investigators looking into the Wallenberg case full access to KGB files. This had been blocked by Bakatin’s predecessor, Vladimir Kryuchkov.

    “We are now closer than ever to the truth about the fate of Wallenberg, and I now believe we can arrive at the truth,” Cotler said. If the Soviets really cooperate with the investigators, it should be possible to determine what happened to Wallenberg within a year, he said.

    LOAD-DATE: October 7, 1991


  • Copyright 1990 The Jerusalem Post
    The Jerusalem Post

    November 2, 1990, Friday

    SECTION: Features

    LENGTH: 2491 words


    BYLINE: Irwin Cotler

    ELEVEN years ago, as counsel to Natan Sharansky, I traveled to the Soviet Union to see my client, who was then being held incommunicado in the forbidding Chistopol prison.

    ELEVEN years ago, as counsel to Natan Sharansky, I traveled to the Soviet Union to see my client, who was then being held incommunicado in the forbidding Chistopol prison.

    The Canadian government had arranged a meeting for me with Roman Rudenko, then procurator-general of the Soviet Union, and I was hoping that my request to see Sharansky would be granted.

    One day before these meetings were to take place, while driving to visit Sharansky’s parents with his brother, Leonid, our car was stopped by militiamen. We were taken to a nearby military compound and the interrogation began.

    It soon became clear that the only person the Soviets wished to interrogate was me. All my requests to contact the Canadian Embassy, the procurator-general’s office and my Soviet hosts were denied.

    After being detained and interrogated for three hours, I was driven to the airport, put on a plane, and expelled from the Soviet Union. I was told I would never return again – unless it were to a Soviet prison.

    I could not help but recall these events when I recently became the first foreign lawyer ever permitted to visit the infamous Chistopol prison, 800 kilometers east of Moscow.

    I was also the first western lawyer ever authorized to visit a Soviet political prisoner in Chistopol – in this case, my client, Mikhail Kazachkov, who is now serving his 15th year in the Soviet Gulag.

    THE PARALLELS between the Sharansky and Kazachkov cases are dramatic. Both were arrested after seeking to emigrate, and were convicted in what were clearly politically motivated prosecutions.

    Kazachkov was arrested in November, 1975, 16 months before Sharansky. Both served most of their sentences in the Gulag, and both spent a good deal of time in the brutal “punishment cells” of Chistopol and Perm Labor Camp 35.

    Sharansky was once confined to a punishment cell in Chistopol because he participated in a solidarity hunger strike on behalf of Kazachkov, who had himself been on a hunger strike to protest prison brutality.

    The connection between the two goes deeper than that. Sharansky called Kazachkov one of the three heroes of his book, Fear No Evil, (the other two are Soviet dissident Valery Smirnov and Ukrainian political prisoner Bhodan Klimchak, who is still imprisoned in Perm Labor Camp 35).

    My recent visit to the Soviet Union, 11 years after I was expelled, was authorized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. I was accompanied by Soviet scientist and long-time refusenik Leonid Stonov, who recently received permission to emigrate after being denied an exit visa for 10 years on grounds that he possessed state secrets. We were hosted throughout the visit by the Tartar region director of prisons, Colonel Rif Muratov.

    The most dramatic evidence of glasnost in the Gulag came when Muratov told me that “Five years ago, I would have been obliged to arrest you as a foreigner driving through Kazan …”

    WE ARRIVED at the prison and were met by the entire prison administration, including Chief of Prison Minivazikh Akhmadeev.

    Our discussion centered on whether glasnost, and perestroika, had indeed come to Chistopol. Because of my involvement with Soviet political prisoners, including former Chistopol prisoners Sharansky and Yosef Mendelevitch, I had a fairly good understanding of conditions in Chistopol, which was regarded as one of the strictest in the Soviet Union. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, approximately 35 political prisoners were held there. That number has dropped dramatically since then.

    I had come with a list of questions about the prison’s current confinement conditions. I hoped to evaluate the prison using, among other guidelines, the UN Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners.

    But there is no substitute for listening to the testimony of the prisoners themselves, as well as evaluating information provided by prison officials.

    So at our request, the prison director led us through whatever part of the prison we wanted to see and let us talk with the prisoners about whatever we liked.

    We began by observing visits between prisoners and their families. The prisoners are separated from their visitors by a glass partition and speak by telephone. They have unobstructed visual, though not physical, contact.

    Legally such visits may take place every six months, but the system has been notorious for punitively postponing and canceling them to isolate and demoralize political prisoners.

    For example, Sharansky’s aging mother once traveled the 800 kilometers in the bitter winter for her semi-annual meeting with her son, only to be turned away at the prison door. Mikhail Kazachkov’s mother had been allowed only three visits in 14 years. Imprisoned Helsinki monitors had their family visits routinely canceled, and so on.

    It now seemed that these visits were proceeding according to the law, or what one official called “Soviet compliance with standards of civilized society.”

    Our next visit was to the punishment cell, often regarded by prisoners as a torture chamber because it isolates and brutalizes, particularly during the harsh winters.

    The punishment cell does not seem to have changed much since Sharansky experienced it. It remains cramped, and has jagged stone walls. Its only “furniture” is a narrow wood plank which serves as a bed and which is folded during the day, when the prisoner is prohibited from using it. At night, a prisoner turns over in his “bed” at his peril, since the wooden plank is next to the jagged edges of the wall.

    The only bathroom facility is a tiny latrine in the corner that is literally carved out of cement. The switch for the cell’s single light bulb is controlled from outside the heavy metal door and can be used as another punitive device.

    But while the punishment cell’s design does not appear to have changed much, the practise of confining prisoners for up to 15 days in such cells appears to have stopped.

    Akhmadeev, the prison chief, said that he has not confined any prisoners there for the last year. When asked if that meant that a new regulation prohibits its use, he said, “No, the regulation is the same. I still have the right to confine a prisoner in a punishment cell for up to 15 days. It is just that I have chosen not to exercise that right.

    “If situations required that kind of confinement, I would still do it,” he continued. “I have not abandoned it as a matter of policy, but I have not instituted it as a matter of practise.”

    We also learned that while the “architecture” of the punishment cell has not changed since Sharansky wrote about it, the conditions of confinement have been altered. For one, prison authorities are now legally required to heat the cell during the winter to a minimum temperature of 18C; prisoners are supplied with blankets; they must have one hot meal a day; and radios are permitted.

    The isolation and harshness, however are still there.

    DURING our discussions with prisoners, which took place in several places in the work zone, the communal cells, the medical wing and elsewhere, it was clear that the prisoners were speaking freely.

    I put similiar questions to all the prisoners I met, and from these discussions an independently corroborated picture of life in Chistopol emerged:

    * There is no indiscriminate beating of prisoners.

    * The practise of canceling family visits as a punishment is no longer prevalent, though prison officials acknowledge that visits may sometimes be postponed.

    * Correspondence is not impeded or censored.

    * Prisoners receive an improved diet, including a steady if limited supply of fruit, vegetables, fish, and occasionally meat. One prisoner joked that the food situation is not much better outside the prison – and in some places, even worse. Another said that at least they don’t have to wait in long lines to buy their food. A third said that while Moscow was experiencing a “cigarette crisis,” prisoners were still smoking.

    * Prisoners did not complain about unsafe working conditions, or brutalizing labor. The “work zones,” where such things as pajamas and clotheslines are made, were noteworthy more for the age of the equipment than for indications of inhumane working conditions.

    * Prisoners said they were supplied with Bibles if they asked, and were visited by clergy. There were no complaints of religious discrimination or interference with religious practises.

    * Head shaving still exists, but is not uniformly enforced. We were told that this practise will soon be prohibited, and it already appears to have abated.

    * Prisoners said relations with prison guards and officials are good. Guards who had been known for abusing prisoners had been removed.

    * Many prisoners were appealing their sentences or convictions, but these attempts appeared to meet with little success. Few seemed able to afford lawyers, and many were cynical about the chances for success in appeals. They acknowledged the assistance of prison authorities in processing their appeals, but felt that the “system” was unresponsive.

    PERHAPS the most important development at Chistopol was visits of “prison monitors,” including Soviet deputies.

    Two weeks before my visit, a monitoring group including Sergei Kovalov, a former political prisoner and now a member of the Russian Supreme Soviet and chairman of its Human Rights Commission; Arsenyi Raginsky, a former political prisoner and an expert on prison conditions; and Mikhail Molostrov, a former political prisoner who is also a Russian Supreme Soviet deputy and member of its Human Rights Commission, and yet another former political prisoner, visited the prison.

    The advent of these visits by Soviet monitoring groups and my unrestricted visit are signs that glasnost and perestroika have come to the Gulag.

    The main reason for my visit itself was to meet with Mikhail Kazachkov.

    A measure of my client’s status in the prison was that even prison officials called him a “political prisoner.” When I asked the authorities how many political prisoners remained in Chistopol, one answered – not without some banter – “Ask Kazachkov. He’s the expert. He knows the exact numbers.”

    Kazachkov’s 15 years in the Gulag and his systematic study of prison conditions have given him a huge reservoir of knowledge about Soviet prisons.

    My moving, two-hour exchange with Kazachkov took place, significantly, not in his cell but in the office of the prison chief.

    I suggested to Kazachkov that we meet privately if he wished, since the prison chief had offered us that option. But Kazachkov said he has “no secrets, nothing to fear and nothing to hide. The authorities might just as well hear what we have to say.” In any case, our conversation was entirely free of intrusion.

    Kazachkov’s English is excellent, the best of any political prisoner I have ever represented, including Sharansky.

    Kazachkov, convicted of smuggling, currency speculation and treason, resolutely maintains his innocence. He says that both the trial and the presentation of evidence against him were utterly Kafkaesque. On the charge of smuggling, the authorities acknowleged that everything Kazachkov had done was legal, but was in fact “illegal” because Kazachkov “was using Soviet law against the authorities.”

    He was also convicted for allegedly conveying state secrets to an American Embassy official. In fact, Kazachkov had made eight unsuccessful attempts to emigrate, but Soviet officials were constantly confiscating his invitations and thereby depriving him of the chance to apply. So Kazachkov asked an American Embassy official for information on how to emigrate and work at an American university, and the official replied in writing.

    That information from an American official to Kazachkov was stretched into “evidence” that Kazachkov had conveyed state secrets to an American official.

    Kazachkov told us that at one time, there had been up to 35 political prisoners at Chistopol. All but Kazachkov had been released, he said, and one other man whom he considered a victim of politically motivated prosecution.

    But he did say that there are still about a dozen political prisoners at Perm Labor Camp 35. These include Bylorussian Christian Alexandar Goldovitch, who was charged with treason for trying to cross the Black Sea in a rubber raft; Ukrainian political prisoner Bohdan Klimchak, whose release was scheduled but who has received an additional “sentence” in an “internal” trial in Perm; and Jewish political prisoner Alexander Rasskazov, who says he wants to emigrate to Israel upon his release.

    INDEED, while the situation at Chistopol had improved considerably, glasnost has yet to come to the Urals and Perm Labor Camp 35. When New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal visited Perm in December 1988, prison authorities refused to allow Kazachkov, who was then held there, to meet with him, saying he was ill. Kazachkov managed to stick his head out of a window to make contact with Rosenthal. For that, he was tried and convicted in August 1989, of violating the state correctional regime and sentenced to an additional 3 years.

    This latter conviction was quashed this summer after an appeal. Kazachkov is now due to be released on November 21 [1990]. He refused to be “amnestied” earlier because he felt it would suggest that he was guilty.

    Kazachkov is seeking full rehabilitation, which he would like to secure even before his release. He authorized me to apply for rehabilitation on his behalf, and upon my return to Moscow I met with an official to begin the process.

    Kazachkov has also set aside his plans to emigrate for now. He does not believe, he said, that he has the “moral right” to abandon all those engaged in the human-rights struggle in the Soviet Union and who have helped him while he has been in prison. He also feels that he cannot abandon his fellow political prisoners.

    AT THE END of our meeting, I gave Kazachkov a copy of Sharansky’s Fear No Evil. At first the authorities questioned whether it was permissible to give a prisoner a book that was not in Russian and that had not been published in the Soviet Union.

    I argued that much of the book was conceived in Chistopol and is about the prison itself. In any case, I said that the book was in English and probably only Kazachkov would be able to read it. The authorities relented.

    The meeting, already morally uplifting, ended on an inspiring note when Kazachkov said that 15 years of imprisonment had not broken him; that he was still full of energy; that he was looking forward to taking his place in the rights struggle; that ultimately this struggle for human rights would succeed.

    There was no need for more words. Only an embrace – and a sense of being in the presence of a person of immense moral courage.


  • June 4, 1988, Saturday, SATURDAY FIRST EDITION

    SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A18

    LENGTH: 426 words

    HEADLINE: Soviets urged to give Montreal lawyer a visa

    BYLINE: By Nomi Morris Toronto Star

    Ottawa has intervened on behalf of human-rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, who has been denied a visa for an international conference in the Soviet Union.

    Cotler is a McGill University law professor who has acted for dissidents Natan Sharansky and Ida Nudel. He was told last week he would not be granted a visa for a two-day conference of the International Bar Association, which starts tomorrow night.

    Sharansky, who has remained close friends with Cotler, was in Toronto yesterday to publicize his prison memoirs, Fear No Evil.

    Cotler has been to the Soviet Union three times before, most recently in February when he was part of a human-rights delegation that met with a number of top Soviet officials.

    The London-based bar association announced on Thursday that it was cancelling its session on peace and human rights, since Cotler and 46 other foreign legal experts had not yet received visas.

    But by yesterday afternoon, the Association of Soviet Lawyers, co-host of the conference, told the bar that all of the 500 foreign delegates would be allowed to attend except Cotler.

    Among those who had been waiting were 18 Israelis, four British lawyers and a number of South Koreans. Another 400 Soviet lawyers are registered for the conference.

    An External Affairs source said yesterday that Canada has “vigorously” protested the barring of “a distinguished Canadian jurist” from an international conference.

    “The Soviet authorities claim they want to reduce barriers between East and West. They claim that they wish to increase contacts, that they are giving greater respect for human rights. And yet their actions in denying professor Cotler the right to take part belie these claims,” he said.

    “This is not in accordance with the public positions the Soviet Union has been taking.”

    A spokesman at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa said that Moscow has given no reason for Cotler’s visa refusal. He said at least five other Canadian lawyers have received visas.

    “It happens in diplomatic practice sometimes,” said Soviet press attache Igor Lobanov. “It’s a two-way street.


  • In Cotler’s office, boxes of documents compete for space on the floor and on the couch. The piles of papers represent Cotler’s varied work as one of Canada’s most effective human rights activists. His international counterparts have credited the 46-year-old McGill graduate with playing a pivotal role in securing the release of Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky from prison. Cotler was one of the few people whom Shcharansky chose to see immediately after he flew to Israel last February, following his release after nine years in prison.

    Cotler’s critical role in securing Shcharansky’s freedom involved an eight-year campaign in conjunction with other human rights activists. Under the direction of Shcharansky’s wife, Avital, who emigrated to the West in 1974, Cotler acted as the dissident’s legal counsel during manay frustrating years of appeals, both to Soviet courts as well as to Western governments. The Soviets finally released Shcharansky for Eastern Bloc citizens being held in the West on charges of espionage.

  • Cotler, a Canadian lawyer, fought for 10 years to have Shcharanksy released from the Soviet Union. He took up the case after meeting Shcharansky’s wife and was later accused of spying and expelled from the Soviet Union while attending an international conference there in 1979.

    Shcharansky served eight years of a 13-year jail term in the Soviet Union on a charge of spying for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. He was freed in an East-West exchange in February after a world-wide campaign for his release led by his wife Avital.

    Cotler said Shcharansky’s release provides an important message. “We are each, wherever we are, the guarantors of eachother’s destiny,” he said. “If it were up to the Soviet authorities, he (Shcharansky) would still be languishing in prison.”

    The work of “untold thousands” help deliver Shcharansky to freedom, the McGill University law professor said.


  • Thanks for the hard work @themiddle. I appreciate it, but I still don’t see a pattern of appropriate professional relationships with the prisoners of conscience in question. I’ll wait for ck to come back with first hand acknowledgement I guess. If anyone in South Africa wants to ask Nelson Mandela, that too would be great.

    Please note that Albie Sachs never acted as counsel for Mandela. Sachs was appointed to the SA Supreme Court by Mandela, and helped draft the new SA constitution, but to say he was Mandela’s lawyer would, again, represent an overly broad definition of “lawyer” or “counsel.” In any case, Sachs himself never claims to have been Mandela’s lawyer. George Bizos on the other hand, represented Mandela as a lawyer in the conventional sense. He was part of the team in the Rivonia trial and even he modestly minimizes his contribution to the defense.

    Please don’t get me wrong. I do not want to minimize the important work Cotler has done on behalf of numerous prisoners of conscience. I just don’t see his relationship with these people as a formal lawyer/client thing. Cotler is an activist, no doubt about it.

    • We read what we want to read. I showed you personal relationships, legal relationships and a clear explanation by Cotler himself of what he did. Of course, if you’re someone who wants to keep moving the goalposts…

  • I think the mixed message sent out in the original post is to blame for all this. I’d like CK to rewrite a post about Harper and maybe another one about Cotler going up against a religious Jew who put up a good fight in the last election.

    • Josh, there was nothing mixed up about this post. It’s an assessment of a complex situation. But ck is welcome to write all the pro-Harper posts he wants.

      • Sorry, you’re writing is usually, no, always much more eloquent that this post. This could have been one of the few times where we could agree on something, instead it is written poorly, as if you have tried to summarize a few points into five sentences, when a bit more expansion and development would do justice. Nothing complex about expanding on someone taking a stand, with seemingly no political gain evident.
        Constructive criticism here, use it or not.

  • I voted liberal (how could I NOT vote for an astronaut??), but I definitely felt a little conflicted. Is it ethical to support a party whose platform you strongly disagree with in almost every respect, excepting its support of Israel? I decided not. Who knows?

  • Good to see Middle back, and in superb polemical form. After all, he’s going to need every last ounce of those skills to persuade us to vote to re-elect President Obama next year.

    • Right now, I don’t care if the Republican candidate ends up being Britney Spears with a shaven head, Obama ain’t getting an ounce of support from me.

  • Is it too cynical to suspect that all is not quite as it seems where the (mostly on his own say-so) illustrious Mr Cotler is concerned? After all, only a fool could suppose that that bio of his, thought by so many to be holy writ and self-evidently veracious, is not an advertisement for himself by himself, or else a panegyric written up one of his many fawning acolytes. (Heaven knows it sounds like nothing less, rather than like a disinterested statement of the unvarnished truth).

    Reading it, while noting carefully the way things are phrased, and checking sources online, you could be forgiven for thinking that the man is a zealous self-promoter with a rather grand conceit of himself. One of the grand-sounding awards received, for example, which the bio makes much of, turns out to be from an obscure midwestern legal association. Another issues from a foundation created by that see-no-evil, hear-no- evil apologist for Israeli atrocity and professional holocaust obsessive, the egregious Eli Weisel. The latter chimes well with the itinerary of Cotler’s career as, basically, darling of Montreal Jewry, foremost champion of Israel in Canada and fervent enemy of an tisemitism he insists on seeing as rearing its ugly head everywhere. Nothing wrong of course with being a champion of one’s community or (even) an ardent Zionist. But how one arrives, or contrives to travel, from so parochial a base to the international superstardom usually reserved for men and women of real achievement in the university world is a question of interest to social anthropologists and students of academic life.

    The more you examine the man’s bio, the more it raises eyebrows. The scholarship he attributes to himself for example, or, on a charitable assessment, that is conventionally attributed to him, seems on closer inspection to consist mainly of a handful of edited volumes published under none-too-distinguished imprints and of agitprop addresses to human rights conferences and jewish associations, rather than of original legal arguments, published in peer-reviewed international journals, based on sophisticated engagement with the complexities of learned opinion. As to the visiting lectureship (of two months’ duration) at Harvard, I will wager that this came about largely thanks the grace and favour of his great friend Dershowitz, rather than at the initiative of that university. And if the Jerusalem PhD he proudly flaunts on his university webpage was awarded for an original and substantial thesis reflecting solid research, rather than honoris causa in gratitude, basically, for a record of activism on behalf of Israel, I will eat my hat. Insofar as that is the case, it is to say the least strange to find the man inflating an honorary doctorate into an advanced research degree; PhDs honoris causa the world are customarily not so treated.

    I am unable to say anything about Cotler as the “counsel” or “lawyer” of Wole Soyinka or Muchtar Pakpahan, but the explosion of the myth of Cotler-as-Mandela’s-lawyer on this site and elsewhere ought to have set a few alarm bells ringing. The man is not so far as I know a member of the Nigerian or Indonesian Bar. In any case, of the many and experienced lawyers the world over who might possibly be recuited to this great writer’s defence can one really imagine Wole Soyinka urgently demanding to be represented in court by of all people I. Cotler from Montreal?

    Somehow I doubt it…

    Am I, in short, alone in thinking that the man is chiefly a hero in his own eyes and in the eyes of his native Jewish community which reveres him uncritically, while remaining, practically speaking, a non-entity in the world beyond, particularly in scholarly and political circles beyond Canada? An “advocate” and “community leader”? No doubt. All power to him on that account. But a great scholar of constitional and international human rights law with a world-wide reputation as such? Please. Insults to the intelligence have their limits. Ten to one, if you ask the like of Philippe Sands or Stephen Sedley QC (both of London), or Francis Boyle (of Illinois at Chicago), or even Michael Ignatieff before his translation into an Ottawa parliamentarian and Liberal party colleague – if you asked any of these truly eminent men if he knew of or respected Irwin Cotler for his distinguished achievements in the world of legal learning, their reply would be: “Irwin who”?

    No: what we have here, I’m afraid,is an instance of an emporer with too few clothes: a local boy skilled at seeking and finding the main chance and gifted with a genius for making and maintaining connections with the great and the good. An impressively smooth operator, in short. I venture to think that the man is at bottom a tireless self-publicist who has managed to puff and parlay a modest local career into a one of heroic proportions (in itself a not uncommon phenomenon in university life), expertly shmoozing his way into the upper echelons of political life at home and abroad.

    None of this is clearly going to cut much ice with his admirers on this blog and elsewhere; all of it will be contemptuously rejected as libellous, even deranged or malign in purpose. Nor as things stand can any power on earth now dislodge Cotler from the plinth on which he stands. But a critical appraisal of what is really the case. is perhaps overdue for that very reason.

  • I’ve never belonged to any political party in Canada nor have I worked for Cotler’s enemies. And name-calling, I’m afraid, is not a very clever or effective response to my comment.

    If, as seems reasonable, doubts arise as to the veracity of the man’s claim to have acted “Mandela’s counsel”- i.e, as his lawyer, in the common understanding of the word “counsel”- as distinct from having been one of his many active supporters overseas, it seems reasonable too to wonder about the nature of his other claims to fame. (I say claims, since it would be naive to suppose that anyone other than Cotler himself is th author of the professional bio that has been in circulation, on the internet most especially. As a former academic myself I know this to be common practice.) And it is here that problems arise, the more one starts to inspect the record and attempt to look past the self-puffery.

    Of course, if we are gullible enough to take Cotler (or any other academic making similar claims for distinction) at his own valuation of himself, nothing has been exaggerated and any suspicion of personal vainglory is unfounded, nay libellous. Everything stated on the man’s bio has, then, the status of indisputable fact and I am, as you say, an idiot.

    Alas, it would be closer to the truth of things to say that from his base in the law Faculty at McGill Mr Cotler has been at pains to turn himself into a figure of some importance in the Montreal Jewish world and in the larger world of Jewish affairs, and that he deserves credit for his activism in the cause of defeating antisemitism. And one would have to add, if, like him, one were an ardent Zionist, that he is to be lauded for defending Israel against real or imagined calumny in international fora. All well and good. Whether he is, as well, a world-renowned legal mind whose writings and speeches are acknowledged the world over (especially among international jurists, three of whose well-known names are mentioned in my post) is open to serious question.

    So too, I think, is his claim to have played a central role in the struggle against apartheid (as distinct from lending support to the struggle from afar), on a par with the names to conjure with in this historical narrative (e.g., Trevor Huddleston, Bram Fischer, Albie Sachs, Ronnie Kasrils,Ruth First). What is not in doubt is the skill, the politician’s nous, with which Mr Cotler has managed to insert, or should one say to vault, himself into the very front rank of these distinguished fighters.

  • A postscript;

    Observing that Mr Cotler was recently in South Africa to speak to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, one is driven to ask: is it conceivable that the members of this august body, assembled in conclave to decide whom among the many possible eminences the world over to favour with an invitation, found themselves declaring to one another: “Gentlemen, we absolutely must have Irwin Cotler from Montreal !” – ?

    I think not. It seems to me as least as likely that Mr Cotler, desiring to return to the country he has so often visited – he was after all a visiting lecturer at Wits University in 94-95 and a participant in Durban I and II – made it known through the usual channels that he was available and willing to travel to Johannesburg, there to propagate views (no doubt music to the ears of his hosts and audience) on the urgency of imposing sanctions on Iran for the sake of defending Israel etc. and, who knows, perhaps, for a family reunion too, his two daughters having married South African Jews. As well, the prospect of burnishing his c.v as a (self-defined) heroic figure of the country’s struggle, and, more generally, as a human rights activist, by wangling a photo-op with Jacob Zuma and a place on the party platform with the President at the ANC conference was, presumably, too good to miss.

    As well as being a scholar (which I believe it fair to say, on the evidence available, that Mr Cotler is not, though he is no doubt an able teacher of the law), a successful academic is a successful businessman, adept at product promotion, marketing, sales, and closing deals. Mr Cotler in this respect is no different, and probably no worse, than any other of his kind, nsofar as he has made expeditious use of sedulously cultivated connections and of his international contacts book.

    • So let me guess, you work for one of Cotler’s political opponents? Or do you happen to work for some organization that was affected by his activism? Bummer for you. Idiot.

  • I represent no one and speak only for myself. As you seem given to insult and are not very articulate, I’ll ignore this remark as well as the predictable response to this post, and address instead the more sceptical of those contributing to this blog column:

    Reading their comments, I see that I’m not alone in placing a question mark over this fellow’s conceit of himself, though I for one am willing to go a step or two beyond in criticism. At the very least, whatever else may be said for Irwin Cotler it seems clear that the man’s a tireless self-promoter, one well-versed in the art of schmoozing the great and the good (Jacob Zuma, Nelson Mandela et al), adept at mingling with them for personal advantage., Nobody can deny that these efforts have paid off handsomely. Nor, to do him justice, can anyone gainsay his achievements on behalf of his own community, or the strenuous activism in behalf of prisoners of conscience the world over. For that alone,the Order of Canada was well-deserved.

    But “as for being, to boot, a great and celebrated scholar of international law (so much being implied by statements to that effect on his website, written presumably by himself), alas that’s another story. A disciplined trawl through the internet brings to the surface a professional output far inferior to that demanded by custom of a full professor of law at a respectable institution. What do we discover in AbeBooks.com and in GoogleScholar (or via a close look at, and behind, the c.v.)? Several edited volumes. Some half-dozen journal articles in peer-reviewed publications. On the other hand, umpteen op-eds and “think pieces” in popular venues, e.g. the Gazette, the Globe and Mail, the National Post and Jerusalem Post, written chiefly in defence of Israel and its atrocities, or in criticism of the Palestinian movement for independence,or else in noisy denunciation of something called “the new antisemitism” – the very phrase is virtually copyright to Cotler – signs of which are detected everywhere. To say nothing of hysterical verbal assaults on Iran and wild talk of its putative scheme for genocide. (Hence, one supposes, the numerous honorary doctorates awarded him by Israeli universities and the wards from Jewish bodies and organisations, whose world-view accords with his own.)

    Not a trace, in short, of any serious and sustained contribution to legal scholarship or sign of textual research undertaken to this end. No tome, reviewed in the main journals in the field. No monograph published under a major academic imprint. No collection of research-based essays/writings within specialised areas of the law. No sign, in short, of anything resembling a Richard Posner or an HLA Hart. In the main, rather, we are witness to great deal of noise and heat – accompanied by very little light – in the public domain about matters close to Cotler’s heart. His shtick is Israel: his main job, as he conceives it, is to champion the coutry’s behaviour and policies through thick and thin, and to sponsor Jewish causes generally. True, there is a declared interest in “human rights,” but here too we find that Israel enters through the back door, one way or another and as often as not. In practice, “human rights” advocacy for Cotler turns out for the most part to be a defence of his adopted land right not to be exempted from judgement in keeping with universally accepted canons of international law. (I use the phrase adopted land advisedly and in a sense that is obvious to all.) In all this, the comparison is not with the like of Philip Sands QC or Geoffrey Robertson – to mention but two ” leading scholars of international law” -but with his friend and fellow propagandist Alan Dershowitz.

    How Irwin Cotler got to be where he is in the academy defies comprehension, unless it be by virtue of sedulous exaggeration and unchallenged self-aggrandisement in the form of ceaseless occupation of the limelight. Can the adulation of his claque of admirers have persuaded his colleagues to take him at his own valuation? Anything is possible of course. What is certain is that Montreal Jews – like our friend @middle? – show themselves to be especially gullible, mistaking as they do appearance for reality.

    Just how “scholarly” Mr Cotler’s analyses are is evidenced in an exceptionally detailed and fair-minded report on a study of his, a report conducted in 2009 by CJPME and available on line for anyone who cares to look. The emperor stands revealed there in all his nakedness.

  • Mt Cotler is an insufferable narcissist and a tireless self-promoter, one adept at schmoozing the great and the good and – as others here and elsewhere have noticed – much given to exaggerating his achievements.

    Only credulous Montreal Jews, of whom @middle is presumaby one, fall for all this.

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