Irwin Cotler
Irwin CotlerReuters

The Canadian government on Wednesday named former Liberal justice minister and internationally-known human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler as Canada's special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism, the CBC reported.

In announcing Cotler’s appointment, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is committed to strengthening Canada's efforts to advance education, research and remembrance at home and abroad.

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

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

"The government of Canada will always stand with the Jewish community and fight the anti-Semitism, hatred and racism that incites such despicable acts," the statement added.

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

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

The government of Canada formally adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism last year as part of its anti-racism strategy, as have several Canadian localities and cities.

Jewish groups in Canada welcomed the appointment. Michael Levitt, CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement, “At a time of rising anti-Semitism and dwindling awareness of the Holocaust, this initiative is more important than ever. It's critical that Special Envoy Cotler will have a mandate that includes responsibility for the implementation of the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism in institutions across Canada and internationally, including at the United Nations and other international fora. We thank the Canadian government for its commitment to advance Holocaust education and combat rising antisemitism, and we congratulate Irwin Cotler on this tremendously important new role."

B'nai Brith Canada also applauded the appointment.

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

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) described Cotler as an "icon" who has fought for human rights for decades.

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