Were you really Nelson Mandela's lawyer?
Letter 04 19-Sep-2005
"The other chairman of the commission is Irwin Cotler, the Canadian Jewish attorney known as one of the world's leading civil rights lawyers. Among his clients was Nelson Mandela." — Yair Sheleg
The Honourable Irwin Cotler
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0H8
RE: Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) File 20031527, Canadian Jewish Congress v Ukrainian Archive (CJC v UKAR).
ATTENTION: The instant 19-Sep-2005 Lubomyr Prytulak letter to Irwin Cotler is copied to Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) Chief Commissioner Mary M Gusella, and to CHRC Investigations Manager John J Chamberlin, as a Prytulak submission to the CHRC in the matter of CJC v UKAR and in support of the Prytulak argument
that CJC leadership — not only present but historical — is impostrous, such that its complaints to the CHRC need to be examined with a measure of skepticism.
You are often credited with having been Nelson Mandela's lawyer, as for example:
He has twice been arrested for representing freedom fighters, as Nelson Mandela's lawyer in South Africa and as Andrei Sakharov's lawyer in the Soviet Union. [...]
Mr. Cotler took the case of Nelson Mandela when "Nelson Mandela was not only in prison but a banned person so that the public mention of his name was itself prohibited," he said, adding that it was a time when "Amnesty International refused to take up his case on the grounds that he had advocated violence."
Abbas Rana, "Terrorism must be seen as a Nuremberg crime," says MP Cotler, Hill Times, 08-Oct-2001,
As an human rights lawyer, Irwin Cotler rose to the defence of freedom fighters around the world: Nelson Mandela in his anti-apartheid struggle, Wole Soyinka during his exile from Nigeria and Andrei Sakharov in the Cold War.
Sonia Verma, Human rights expert defends security bill, Toronto Star Saturday Ontario Edition, November 10, 2001.
Cotler, who has defended political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela and Natan Sharansky, suggested it would be prudent to drop the section that defines "terrorist activity" in terms of the perpetrators' motivations.
Paul Lungen, Cotler backs anti-terror bill, suggests amendments, Canadian Jewish News, 22-Nov-2001.
Cotler's credibility as a human rights expert was a trump card in the push to persuade a suspicious Canadian public of the merits of the controversial new Anti-Terrorism Act, C-36. As a widely published law professor, now on leave from McGill, and onetime counsel to prisoners-of-conscience like Andrei Sakharov and Nelson Mandela, Cotler's backing gave the bill the boost it needed.
Tonda MacCharles, Cotler not afraid to speak his mind, Toronto Star, 13-Dec-2003 as posted at CJC in the news at www.cjc.ca/~
The other chairman of the commission is Irwin Cotler, the Canadian Jewish attorney known as one of the world's leading civil rights lawyers. Among his clients was Nelson Mandela.
Yair Sheleg, The anti-Semitic incidents in Europe since the outbreak of the intifada have given birth to the term 'the new anti-Semitism,' Haaretz, undated, at
Many saw it as a fitting post for the former human rights lawyer and McGill University constitutional law professor, respected internationally for his work on behalf of people such as Soviet dissidents Anatoly Scharansky and Andrei Sakharov, as well as South Africa's Nelson Mandela.
Ian MacLeod, Justice minister leaving his mark despite fractured Parliament, CanWest News Service, 20-Jun-2005 at
The claim — and as you decline to contradict it, and even repeat it yourself as is documented below, it becomes your claim — of having been "Nelson Mandela's lawyer" makes sense if we picture an uneducated, resourceless prisoner whose only salvation is a Canadian lawyer making his way across the seas to save him. However, this image is false. In fact, Nelson Mandela himself is a lawyer, having opened the first black law office in Johannesburg in 1952, in partnership with Oliver Tambo. Mandela knew many accomplished South Africans, including lawyers, describing Tambo, for example, as follows in his 638-page autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom:
From the start, I saw that Oliver's intelligence was diamond-edged; he was a keen debater and did not accept the platitudes that so many of us automatically subscribed to. [p. 47]
He had first impressed me at Fort Hare, where I noticed his thoughtful intelligence and sharp debating skills. With his cool logical style he could demolish an opponent's argument — precisely the sort of intelligence that is useful in a courtroom. Before Fort Hare, he had been a brilliant student at St. Peter's in Johannesburg. His even-tempered objectivity was an antidote to my more emotional reactions to issues. [p. 148]
Mandela and other lawyers of his acquaintance were steeped in South African law and procedure, as no Canadian lawyer could have been:
We often dealt with a half-dozen cases in the morning, and were in and out of court all day long. [p. 150]
Mandela's legal education also included frequently appearing in court as litigant, as in this early example:
But the magistrate refused to hear the case, even going so far as to ask the court officer to evict me.
This was a clear violation of court practice. The matter eventually came before the Supreme Court and my friend George Bizos, an advocate, appeared on my behalf. [p. 150]
In this context, then, of no lack of bright and experienced and dedicated South-African lawyers, of what use could a Canadian lawyer be, comparatively unacquainted as he must be with South African languages and cultures and history and law? Of restricted use, one might hypothesize, and not a use that would justify that Canadian lawyer calling himself "Nelson Mandela's lawyer."
By way of evaluating this hypothesis, I examined the 47 photographs in Long Walk to Freedom for some acknowledgment of your role, but found your image neither in the foreground nor background of any of them, and found your name in none of the captions either. And then examining the index of that same autobiography, I failed to find the entry "Cotler," as can be confirmed in the snippet from the index presented on the left below. If you had indeed acted as "Nelson Mandela's lawyer," then, you might have cause to fault him for either ingratitude or forgetfulness.
However, Nelson Mandela appears to be neither ungrateful nor forgetful with respect to other lawyers who assisted him, as was evidenced in his mention of George Bizos just above, and as can be read throughout Mandela's book, as for example when he says "Our supporters and organization had assembled a formidable defense team, including Bram Fischer, Norman Rosenberg, Israel Maisels, Maurice Franks, and Vernon Berrangé" [p. 204]; or when he says "Once more we were privileged to have a brilliant and aggressive defense team, ably led by advocate Israel Maisels, and assisted by Bram Fischer, Rex Welsh, Vernon Berrangé, Sydney Kentridge, Tony O'Dowd, and G. Nicholas" [p. 224.]; or when he says "Before leaving, Oliver had retained a mutual friend of ours, Hymie Davidoff, a local attorney, to close up our office and wind up our practice" [p. 245].
Similarly failing to uphold your image as "Nelson Mandela's lawyer" is your not being mentioned within Nelson Mandela biographies appearing in the Wikipedia online encyclopedia at en.wikipedia.org/~ or in Encycopedia.com at
www.encyclopedia.com/~ or in MSN Encarta at
And neither does "Cotler" appear anywhere on the African National Congress web site — which holds the Internet's largest collection of Mandela-related material — as can be confirmed by doing a Google search for the string "Cotler site:www.anc.org.za" (without the quotation marks).
Such accumulation of evidence calls to mind the further hypothesis that acknowledgment of your contribution to the Mandela defense did not merely happen to get excluded from Nelson Mandela's autobiography, but is excluded broadly, such that nobody who has taken the trouble to perform an elementary verification, or who is acquainted with Mandela's life, credits you with a role worth mentioning.
In this predicament, your options would seem to be either to (1) bolster your claim of having been "Nelson Mandela's lawyer," as by posting the photographs of the two of you together which Mandela himself failed to publish in his autobiography, or posting copies of the motions that you filed on Mandela's behalf along with an explanation of what each of them accomplished, or with his permission posting some of the letters that passed between you; or in case you are unable to do any of the above, and your claim is in fact self-promotional exaggeration (reminiscent of your friend Steven Rambam's claim of being one of the top 25 investigators of the century), then (2) stop representing yourself as having been "Nelson Mandela's lawyer," and especially stop implying that you have been his chief or only lawyer and thus by implication were responsible for winning his freedom, or making a substantial contribution to winning his freedom.
If you are forced to follow the second option above, then perhaps you might begin your journey toward modesty by erasing reference to Nelson Mandela from such of your official biographical blurbs as those at
and perhaps you should request removal of reference to Nelson Mandela from such other seemingly-authoritative of your biographical outlines as those at
Your clarification of this matter is urgent, as it might assist in discouraging the impression that you flew to South Africa for the purpose of attaching your name to that of Nelson Mandela, but that you didn't hang around long enough to do him much good. Your clarification might also begin to contradict the impression that achieving leadership within the Canadian Jewish Congress, as you have done, is permitted only to those able to exhibit a gift for bending truth.
And if the "credibility as a human rights expert" attributed to you above has been used as a "trump card" to push through legislation like the "Anti-Terrorism Act," then perhaps this and all legislation which you have pushed through should be reviewed with heightened skepticism in light of the discovery that your trump card is forged. More generally, perhaps all legislation which you have pushed through should be reviewed with heightened skepticism in light of the debunking of your credibility which follows from also recollecting your zealotry in joining the John Demjanjuk lynch mob, your collaboration with Steven Rambam in hoodwinking Canadians by means of the Fifty Confessions Hoax, your urging the Deschenes Commission to rely on Kremlin-supplied evidence to persecute non-Jewish European immigrants, your flouting the Charter guarantee of equality before the law by using criteria of ethnicity and religion to determine prosecutability, or your having once commanded the helm of the Canadian Jewish Congress kosher-certification business whose income originates from a criminal conspiracy under the Competition Act.
Irving ABELLA, National Honourary President CJC, Dept History, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto ON M3J 1P3
John J CHAMBERLIN, Manager Investigations, CHRC, 344 Slater Street, Ottawa ON K1A 1E1
Mary M GUSELLA, Chief Commissioner, CHRC, 344 Slater Street, Ottawa ON K1A 1E1
Rt Hon Paul MARTIN, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington Street, Ottawa ON K1A 0A2
Ed MORGAN, National President, Canadian Jewish Congress, 100 Sparks Street,
Ottawa ON K1P 5B7