MPs defend Irwin Cotler, after pro-Palestinian protesters disrupt speech

Conservative MP David Sweet discusses an attempt by pro-Palestinian protesters “to shut down” Irwin Cotler’s speech, in the House of Commons in Ottawa on June 6.

Members of Parliament from all parties joined in a show of solidarity with Irwin Cotler, after learning that pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted him while he was speaking at Concordia University on June 3.

In the House of Commons three days after the incident, MPs gave Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and attorney general, a standing ovation during question period.

The applause followed a question by Conservative MP David Sweet on whether the government would “condemn this attack on the free speech of one of Canada’s top human rights defenders.”


Sweet noted that Cotler has been outspoken in his defence of tyrannized minorities and political prisoners around the world.

Liberal MP Robert Oliphant, the parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, responded by saying that the government and the entire House stand with Cotler, and that the government would convey that to him.

Liberal MP Michael Levitt also tweeted: “I am absolutely disgusted by the taunting, intimidation & harassment that was on full display as human rights champion Irwin Cotler was ambushed at this event.”

The hashtag #StandWithCotler has been created for anyone who wants to voice their support for him.

On June 3, Cotler had just begun his presentation at a conference on international human rights issues when two longtime pro-Palestinian activists – writer Yves Engler and filmmaker Malcolm Guy – jumped on stage holding signs reading “Free Palestine.”

Then another well-known anti-Israel advocate, Dmitri Lascaris, a lawyer and now justice spokesperson for the provincial Green party in Quebec, got on stage and berated Cotler for allegedly never defending Palestinian rights, and supporting Israel’s rights violations.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators taunt Irwin Cotler, centre, during a conference on interna-tional rights issues at Concordia University in Montreal on June 3. (Janice Arnold photo)

The daylong conference was organized by Concordia’s Institute for Genocide and Human and Rights Studies and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR), of which Cotler is the founder and chair, among other groups.

Brandon Silver, RWCHR’s director of policy and projects, said that The CJN’s initial report on the incident was “shared far and wide.… Messages of support emanated from around the world, including from top human rights lawyers like Tamara Suju, who helped initiate the International Criminal Court’s investigation into crimes against humanity in Venezuela, and even a note of support from Santiago Canton, who chaired the United Nation’s Commission of Inquiry into Gaza.”