Irwin COTLER

COTLER, The Hon. Irwin, P.C., O.C., B.A., B.C.L., LL.M., LL.D., Ph.D.

Personal Data

Party
Liberal
Constituency
Mount Royal (Quebec)
Birth Date
May 8, 1940
Website
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irwin_Cotler
PARLINFO
http://www.parl.gc.ca/parlinfo/Files/Parliamentarian.aspx?Item=0d8486f0-be42-41d4-ac82-c51a7f9c0fa9&Language=E&Section=ALL
Profession
lawyer, professor of law

Parliamentary Career

November 15, 1999 - October 22, 2000
LIB
  Mount Royal (Quebec)
November 27, 2000 - May 23, 2004
LIB
  Mount Royal (Quebec)
  • Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada (December 12, 2003 - February 5, 2006)
June 28, 2004 - November 29, 2005
LIB
  Mount Royal (Quebec)
  • Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada (December 12, 2003 - February 5, 2006)
January 23, 2006 - September 7, 2008
LIB
  Mount Royal (Quebec)
  • Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada (December 12, 2003 - February 5, 2006)
October 14, 2008 - March 26, 2011
LIB
  Mount Royal (Quebec)
May 2, 2011 - August 2, 2015
LIB
  Mount Royal (Quebec)
May 2, 2011 -
LIB
  Mount Royal (Quebec)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 1 of 243)


June 19, 2015

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, Iran tragically executes more people per capita than any other country in the world. Moreover, Iran is engaged in a horrific execution binge that has resulted in 120 executions in May alone, while this month has seen an unparalleled wave of executions, with one execution every two hours.

All this is occurring while Iran is otherwise engaged in massive domestic repression, including the criminalization of dissent, the persecution and prosecution of ethnic and religious minorities, violations of women's rights, and the imprisoning of over 1,000 political prisoners.

Regrettably, the nuclear negotiations have not only overshadowed but sanitized this massive domestic repression, as witnessed by the deafening international silence surrounding it. The fact that a country is massively violating the rights of its own people, and lying about it, raises serious questions about the validity and veracity of its nuclear undertakings.

As negotiators seek a legal framework for the nuclear issue, the Iranian regime is in standing violation of its human rights obligations under international law.

It is time to sound the alarm and to hold the regime to account on both the nuclear and human rights concerns, to the benefit of both the international community and the Iranian people themselves.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Iran
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June 19, 2015

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.)

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-701, An Act to establish the Office of the Commissioner for Children and Young Persons in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce this bill to establish the office of the commissioner for children and young persons. This legislation is inspired by a bill previously introduced by the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie. I thank him for the excellent work he has done to promote the well-being of children and youth in Canada and around the world.

Indeed, the true measure of a nation's standing is how well it cares for its children. Especially after the recent report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into the experiences of the survivors of Indian residential schools, we understand now more than ever the dire consequences of failing children.

Accordingly, a children's commissioner would advocate for children and examine law and policy with a view to ensuring children's rights and welfare, including their health, their education and simply their sense of being loved.

The legislation is inspired as well by my daughter, who when she was a child herself told me, “Daddy, if you want to know what the real test of human rights is, always ask yourself, at any time, in any situation, in any part of the world: Is what is happening good for children? That's the real test of human rights.”

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Commissioner for Children and Young Persons in Canada Act
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June 19, 2015

Hon. Irwin Cotler

Mr. Speaker, this Parliament has admirably adopted a number of religious and cultural heritage months. Therefore, there have been consultations among the parties and I trust that there will be consent for the following motion: That the House recognize the month of November as Jewish heritage month in recognition of the important contributions of Jewish Canadians to the settlement, development and growth of Canada; the cultural diversity of the Canadian Jewish community; the present significance of the Canadian Jewish community to this country; and the importance of creating opportunities for Canadians to learn more about each other in order to foster greater awareness, cohesion and mutual respect.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Qausuittuq National Park of Canada Act
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June 18, 2015

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to present three separate petitions today.

The first is a petition on behalf of Canadians who are calling on the Government of Canada and members of Parliament to take note of the human rights violations perpetrated in Venezuela by the government of President Nicolás Maduro, including the criminalization of dissent, the shuttering of independent media and the imprisonment of opposition leaders.

The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to further study the human rights situation in Venezuela, including a mission to conduct first-hand evaluations of the situation there.

This is a particularly timely petition as opposition leader Leopoldo López and former San Cristobal mayor Daniel Ceballos have embarked upon a hunger strike to protest their imprisonment and that of other opponents of the regime.

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is on behalf of Canadians who wish the government to apologize to Dr. David Shugar for the human and civil rights violations he suffered, including serious damage to his reputation and loss of employment as a result of false accusations that he was a Communist spy in 1946.

The petitioners call on the government to submit a letter of apology to Dr. Shugar who, as a result of these civil rights abuses, and despite being exonerated of all the accusations against him, was summarily dismissed from his position with the federal Department of National Health and Welfare, unable to secure employment and forced to emigrate to Poland where he resides today. He is close to 100 years of age.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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June 18, 2015

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege out of respect for the integrity of Parliament, as you yourself have put it, and I want to join in the commendation to you, your staff, and the clerks for all that has been done. I join in the referencing of that by my predecessor speakers.

I am rising, I must say, somewhat hesitantly because of the lateness of the period, but I am doing so in the hope, as even the House leader mentioned, of the enhancement of the democratic process. In particular, I rise today on a question of privilege related to the government's response to a question on the order paper, Question No. 1229, which became accessible online only on Tuesday. I gave notice to the chair yesterday, and thus I am raising this matter at the earliest opportunity and regret that it is close to the end of our proceedings.

Mr. Speaker, I know that you and your predecessors have often made clear that the Chair is not empowered to adjudicate the quality or accuracy of responses to written questions. Indeed, that is not the issue I am raising, despite the fact that the government's response to Question No. 1229 all but ignored the question it purported to answer.

Indeed, the issue I raise is the violation of a Standing Order of the House, namely, Standing Order 39(1), which clearly states the following in reference to questions on the order paper:

...in putting any such question or in replying to the same no argument or opinion is to be offered, nor any facts stated, except so far as may be necessary to explain the same; and in answering any such question the matter to which the same refers shall not be debated.

This is a Standing Order to which you, Mr. Speaker, have yourself referred on previous occasions, such as on January 29, 2013, when you said, “as Speaker, I have a duty to remind the House that our written question process is intended to be free of argument and debate”, and it is in that context that I rise on this question of privilege.

This point, indeed, is emphasized in the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, which states, on page 522:

The guidelines that apply to the form and content of written questions are also applicable to the answers provided by the government. As such, no argument or opinion is to be given and only the information needed to respond to the question is to be provided in an effort to maintain the process of written questions as an exchange of information rather than an opportunity for debate.

Indeed, the only particular constraint placed by the Standing Orders on the content of responses to order paper questions is that they may not contain opinion or debate, yet the answer I received this week to Question No. 1229 was comprised almost exclusively of opinion and debate.

Hon. members rely on the written question system, and I have been pleased to be able to use it, to obtain the information we need to represent our constituents, to hold the government to account, and to engage subsequently in informed study of legislation and policy. Thus, the violation by the government of Standing Order 39(1), which has become a regrettable pattern, undermines the written question system and impedes the ability of hon. members to do our jobs.

On page 84 of O'Brien and Bosc, a list of instances found by the United Kingdom Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege to constitute contempt specifically includes, “acting in breach of any orders of the House”. Thus, I am asking to regard the government's response to Question No. 1229 as constitutive of contempt of Parliament.

With Question No. 1229, I sought detailed information regarding the funding of programs that facilitate the reintegration of offenders into society after they have served their sentences. The government's response, which, as I say, hardly deals with the question at all, begins, “Mr. Speaker, the government believes”. This construction necessarily leads to a statement of opinion, and the very inclusion of the government's beliefs in response to a written question contravenes the Standing Order. Therefore, the Standing Orders have been violated five words into the response.

The response goes on to make claims about the importance and efficiency of government measures, but regardless of the accuracy of those claims, they constitute debate and are thus not permitted in the context of an order paper question response.

As private members, if we include a statement of belief in the text of a written question, or if we engage in debate, we are quickly contacted by the private members' business office and instructed to amend the text and limit our inquiry to a request for factual information, which is, of course, the express purpose of the written question system.

In fact, as O'Brien and Bosc note on page 520 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, not only are members barred from including expressions of opinion in our questions, we are prohibited from requesting the government's opinion, and the Clerk of the House “has full authority” to ensure our compliance.

It is the Speaker, however, who is vested with the authority to ensure that the government complies with the Standing Orders when responding to questions, and in fact, if the government includes its opinion in its answer, it is providing material that members are specifically prohibited from seeking, again in violation of Standing Order 39(1).

Briefly, it is important to note that this use or misuse of the written question system is not so much a personal breach on the part, in this instance, of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, who provided the response to Question No. 1229 and for whom I have a great deal of respect, as it is a regrettable pattern on the part of the government in general.

For example, the government's recent response to Question No. 1093 includes the phrase, “The Government of Canada rejects the argument”, and if one is rejecting an argument, one is, by definition, engaging in debate. The response to Question No. 773 again featured the construction, “The government believes”, and the response to Question No. 721 references the government's lack of “desire” to reinstate a particular program.

While the government's desires and beliefs are undoubtedly a matter of interest to Canadians and to hon. members, they do not belong in responses to order paper questions, just as the desires and beliefs of us as private members do not belong in the written questions we pose.

As you noted in your ruling on January 29, 2013, Mr. Speaker:

it is expected under our practice that the integrity of the written question process be maintained by avoiding questions or answers that stray from the underlying principle of information exchange.

I know, and with this I close, that at this late date in the parliamentary calendar, there may not be time for a prima facie finding of contempt to be referred to committee and for such a referral to proceed according to usual practice.

However, I raise this matter, and admittedly regrettably so at this late date in Parliament, but without an option otherwise, because we only received the answers recently, out of concern for the health of our parliamentary process, out of respect for the Standing Orders of this House, and out of concern for, as you yourself have put it, “the integrity of the written question process”, which is an essential tool for us as parliamentarians.

I ask that you protect the integrity of this process by finding that the government's response to Question No. 1229 is in breach of Standing Order 39(1), and I hope that when the House returns in the fall, hon. members from all parties will work together to strengthen parliamentary processes, such as the written question system, which underpin the vitality of our democracy.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Privilege
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