The National Spiritual Assembly welcomed former Minister of Justice and Member of Parliament for Mount Royal, Irwin Cotler, to the Reception Centre adjacent to the Baha’i Shrine in Montreal on the 7th of September to convey to him the gratitude of the Baha’i community for his unwavering defence of the Baha’is in Iran over more than 25 years in public life. Professor Cotler retired from political office this past year.
Even before he was a Member of Parliament, in the 1980s, and at the time Director of the Human Rights program in the Law Faculty at the University of McGill, Professor Cotler spoke out publicly in order to draw attention to the systematic persecution of Baha’is in Iran. During his years as a Member of Parliament, 1999 to 2015, and serving as Canada’s Minister of Justice, 2003-2006, he continued to use his position to call attention to the appalling injustice to Baha’is in Iran. Often helpful in organizing testimony on Iran that included reference to the Baha’i situation during the Parliamentary “Iran weeks” and before the Parliamentary Sub-committee on International Human Rights, he also drew attention to the persecution of Baha’is in commentaries in Canada’s leading newspapers.
In conveying thanks to Professor Cotler for his always eloquent defence of the Baha’is, Karen McKye, Secretary of the National Assembly, also noted his remarkable and unrelenting work to advance justice and promote and protect human rights around the world and in Canada for a wide range of others of all backgrounds. In thanking Professor Cotler, the National Assembly presented him with a beautiful piece of Arabic calligraphy – the second of Baha’u’llah’s “Hidden Words” – that highlights justice as “the best beloved of all things in My sight”.
A small delegation of Baha’is from the National Assembly and Office of External Affairs met Professor Cotler, his wife Ariela and senior staff of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, at the beginning of the reception in order to provide a tour of the Baha’i Shrine. In recounting the story of the visit of ‘Abdu’l-Baha to Montreal and the Maxwells, and in reviewing for the guests a little of the relationship of the Maxwell family to the Baha’i Faith, Professor Cotler was evidently moved as were his staff, one of whom had just returned from Israel where he had visited the Shrine of the Báb two weeks earlier.
After accepting the gift from the Baha’i community, Professor Cotler spoke passionately about the range of human rights abuses currently faced by the people of Iran. In coming to the persecution of Baha’is, he paused and emphasized just how systematic, comprehensive, longstanding and egregious is the nature of suffering being born by the Baha’is of Iran. He said he would not forget this important case of persecution, and would continue to do what he could to help raise this case of injustice before the Canadian and international public and at important forums. Professor Cotler recently founded the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, http://www.raoulwallenbergcentre.org/, and among several projects pursued by the Centre is its project to do what it can to address the continued and entirely unjust imprisonment of the seven Baha’i leaders, now in their ninth year of prison.