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A thank-you letter to Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler hard at work. (Photo by Kristine Berey)

Irwin Cotler hard at work. (Photo by Kristine Berey)

Dear Mr. Cotler,

When our publisher, Barbara Moser, asked me if I wanted to write you a thank-you letter, my first thought was that, having met you in the capacity of writing for The Senior Times, I can no longer laugh at politician and lawyer jokes. You have shattered those stereotypes for me.

You are a lawyer, in politics, and you do have an agenda, but it is anything but hidden. I feel it is noble, a plea for reason, which I understand to mean the heart and mind working together. Whether you address seniors at the Cummings Centre, caregivers at a conference or a group of law students at McGill, your tone, demeanor and fundamental message are constant and you remain eminently approachable.

When you speak of “the responsibility to protect,” one has the impression that these words have a personal meaning for you, encompassing and going beyond the academic context of International Human Rights. And when you warn that “hate begins with words,” you shine a bright light on complacency that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. You’ve worked and are still working on so many issues that I can’t possibly name them all.

So thank you, Mr. Cotler, for keeping caregivers on your agenda, for the most part older women who have been historically held in contempt by society, though they do the lion’s share of caretaking of the frail and ill.

Thank you for demanding a national inquiry into the murder and disappearance of 600 aboriginal women and girls. It is a shame for Canada that indigenous women face a far greater likelihood of dying a violent death than other Canadian women.

Thank you for alerting us to the dangers surrounding Israel and for fighting for its right to exist. There has to be one place on the globe where anti-Semitism can find no fertile ground.

Thank you also for drawing attention to the fact that the Canadian government in its plan to limit Roma immigration into Canada, put up billboards in Hungary after declaring Hungary “a safe country” discouraging would-be new Canadians. It is important you did this because the issues regarding this brand of racism are not usually on the front burner. In Hungary there exists a far-right-wing party that, since 2010, has occupied 43 of 368 seats in Parliament. For their supporters, the terms “gypsy crime” and “Jewish crime” are commonplace. As they prepare for an election, they reach out to their counterparts in the EU. Their leader, Gabor Vona, is the founder of a group of thugs reminiscent of black-shirts, who claim they want to protect Hungary but seem to be recruited to intimidate.

Reading, in Hungarian, the text on right-wing propaganda websites some of their supporters maintain is shocking because of the blatant hostility of the content and the brutality of some of the comments. The claim that Hungary is safe and fair for everyone, including those considered not to be “true” or “real” Hungarians, loses all credibility.

Thank you for teaching us that democracy is not a “right” accessible to everyone, that it is the best system we have so far, one that must be cherished, maintained and never taken for granted.

As you say, hate begins with words. But so does love. And your words have touched so many people; your constituents, your colleagues, fellow citizens and, in particular, your students. Among them are future lawyers and politicians who will go out into the world and, inspired by your words, will strive to make it a better place. This knowledge keeps me at times from sinking into a mire of cynicism about the human race. And it is for this most of all, Mr. Cotler, that I thank you.

Kristine Berey,
Editor, The Senior Times

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