Preserving Holocaust remembrance and combatting antisemitism
The Government of Canada is committed to reinforcing and strengthening Canada’s efforts to advance Holocaust education, remembrance and research, and to combat antisemitism. These are key elements of the promotion and protection of human rights at home and abroad. Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism plays a critical role in advancing efforts to combat antisemitism here in Canada and internationally and to preserve Holocaust remembrance. This includes leading the Government of Canada’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
On this page
- Canada’s membership in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
- Our representative
- Mandate of the Special Envoy
- Related links
The Holocaust, or “Shoah” in Hebrew, was an unprecedented genocide perpetrated by the Nazi regime with the aim of annihilating all Jewish people. During the Holocaust, more than 6 million Jews – or approximately two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population – were murdered. The total death toll of all groups targeted by the Nazi regime is 11 million people. This includes ethnic Poles, Roma and Sinti populations, Soviet citizens, LGBTI persons, people with disabilities, and political and religious dissidents.
The history of the Holocaust highlights the mass atrocity and genocide that can happen when any form of hatred and discrimination is normalized. This is why Canada is unwavering in its commitment to combat antisemitism, hatred, and racism here and around the world. Holocaust remembrance, education and awareness are needed to stop the rise of discrimination and authoritarianism worldwide. With the alarming surge of Holocaust denial and distortion both online and offline, it is essential to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and to educate younger generations. This duty is particularly important now as we are losing the last generation of Holocaust survivors – the primary witnesses of the atrocities of World War II.
Canada’s efforts to combat antisemitism and preserve the memory of the Holocaust are rooted in our commitment to:
- protect human rights
- defend democracy
- advance inclusive public policy
- promote respect for diversity at home and abroad
The Government of Canada is committed to stand against antisemitism and all forms of hatred and discrimination as we promote and protect human rights globally. One way we act on this commitment is through our bilateral relationships and multilateral engagement at the:
- United Nations
- Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
- Organization of American States
- International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
We know that antisemitism is not a problem for Jewish communities to solve alone – it is a global challenge that all of us must take on.
Canada’s membership in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
Canada’s commitment to human rights and combatting antisemitism at home and abroad is anchored in our membership and work with the IHRA.
The IHRA is an international institution composed of 35 member countries and 8 observer countries. They are devoted to Holocaust education, remembrance and research, and united through a shared commitment to the Stockholm Declaration (2000), the outcome of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust in 2000. As the only international institution mandated to focus on issues related to the Holocaust, the IHRA promotes awareness about the far-reaching negative impacts of antisemitism around the world and seeks ways to end it. Canada has been a proud member of the IHRA since 2009 and served as its chair from March 2013 to February 2014.
Canada strongly supports and encourages the wide adoption and implementation of the IHRA’s non‑legally binding working definition on antisemitism (PDF) and illustrative examples, which the IHRA adopted by consensus in May 2016. The Government of Canada adopted the IHRA definition on antisemitism domestically through Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019 to 2022.
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
- IHRA definition of antisemitism
We are proud of the distinctly Canadian connection to this IHRA antisemitism definition, which is drawn verbatim from the 2010 Ottawa Protocol on Combatting Antisemitism. The Ottawa Protocol was unanimously adopted by Parliament in 2011 and is anchored in the equality rights and anti-discrimination provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Canada’s Head of delegation to the IHRA is the Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, the Honourable Irwin Cotler, P.C., O.C., O.Q., Ad. E.
Mr. Cotler is the founder and international chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, long-time parliamentarian, and an international human rights lawyer.
Mr. Cotler is a Privy Councillor, an Officer of the Order of Canada, an Officer of the National Order of Quebec, a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and an Avocat émérite. He is the recipient of 17 honorary doctorates and numerous awards from institutions in Canada and around the world. He was the first Canadian recipient of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation’s Centennial Medal, and received the Law Society of Upper Canada’s inaugural Human Rights Award. He has also received the Canadian Bar Association President’s Award, the Roméo Dallaire Award for Human Rights Leadership, and the Sir Zafrullah Khan Award for Distinguished Public Service. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by former Prime Minister Paul Martin and leaders of other political parties.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed the Honourable Irwin Cotler to the role of Special Envoy on November 23, 2020. As Special Envoy, Mr. Cotler continues his long career dedicated to human rights, and the fight against racism, antisemitism, and hate – a career that has encompassed his time as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, a Parliamentarian, a recognized scholar, and an international human rights lawyer.
Message from the Special Envoy
It has been an honour to be appointed by the Prime Minister as Canada’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism. The Holocaust is a paradigm for radical evil and antisemitism a paradigm for radical hate, and we are witnessing, 75 years after the Holocaust, a global resurgence of antisemitic acts, assaults and violence both in Canada and abroad.
As we remember the victims of the Shoah, we must understand that the mass murder of 6 million Jews and millions of non-Jews is not a matter of abstract statistics. As we say at these moments of remembrance, “Unto each person there is a name, each person has an identity, each person is a universe.” Thus, the abiding universal imperative: we are each, wherever we are, the guarantors of each other’s destiny. This is why it is our duty, all of us, to preserve the memory of the Holocaust – le devoir de mémoire.
Let there be no mistake about it: Jews were murdered at Auschwitz because of antisemitism, but antisemitism itself did not die at Auschwitz. It remains the bloody canary in the mineshaft of global evil today, toxic to democracies and an assault on our common humanity. And as we have learned only too painfully and too well, while it begins with Jews, it doesn’t end with Jews.
We also see a proliferation of Holocaust distortion and denial on social media but also offline. We need to protect and ensure the dignity and memory of the victims. We have witnessed the weaponization of the COVID pandemic, in which the Jews have been accused of manufacturing the virus, causing its spread, and profiting from it. We need to stop these lies.
It is these pressing issues that underpin my work as Canada’s inaugural Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, as part of the larger struggle for the defense of democracy, and the promotion and protection of human rights and human dignity in our time.
- The Honourable Irwin Cotler, P.C., O.C., O.Q., Ad. E - Canada’s Head of delegation to the IHRA and Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism
Mandate of the Special Envoy
The mandate of the Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism includes domestic and international components. It stems from the commitments of the Stockholm Declaration (2000), and pledges that the Government of Canada made at the National Summit on Antisemitism (July 2021) and the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism (October 2021).
- As Special Envoy, the mandate holder is head of delegation to the IHRA and plays a leading role in Canada’s efforts to combat antisemitism and hatred abroad, in alignment with Canada’s recognition that human rights are interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.
- This mandate includes collaborating with international partners to strengthen and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research worldwide, and advocating for a broader international adoption of the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism.
- The mandate holder supports efforts to combat antisemitism and hatred domestically, interacting with Canadian institutions and stakeholders to promote Holocaust education, remembrance research and to encourage the implementation of the IHRA definition of antisemitism domestically.
Adopting a human rights-based approach, the Special Envoy supports the Government of Canada’s goal to protect human rights, and to advocate for and advance inclusive public policy and respect for diversity at home and abroad.
- Freedom of religion or belief
- Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy
- Canada’s Pledges on Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism
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