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Maxwell Cohen

March 17,1910 – March 30, 1998

Born in Winnipeg, Man., Maxwell Cohen was a lawyer, an expert in international law and international relations, professor of law and leading academic, public servant, judge, writer and active member in the Jewish community. Educated first at the University of Manitoba and Northwestern University in 1936, he then studied at Harvard Law School in 1937-1938 and was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1939 and the Quebec Bar in 1947.

After serving as a major in the Canadian Army, Cohen began his teaching career in 1946 at the Faculty of Law of McGill University, where he eventually became dean serving between 1964 and 1969. There Cohen developed the national program, which, in its day, uniquely combined the teaching of civil and common law. He also played an important role in reforming Canadian university government and he pioneered in the creation of specialized legal studies institutes. During his lifetime Cohen took a particular interest in human rights and labour legislation.
Nationally, Cohen served as chairman of five federal-level royal commissions, notably the Special Committee on Hate Propaganda 1965-1966, and acted as a constitutional adviser to the New Brunswick government. Internationally, he served as Canadian representative to the United Nations and Canadian chairman of the Canada-United States International Joint Commission. Cohen ended his career as judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice in The Hague and scholar-in-residence at the University of Ottawa.

Cohen served on the executive of professional bodies including: Canadian Branch of the International Law   Association, president, 1952-1958; American Society of International Law, 1962-1965; Canadian Bar Association, 1955-1957, 1964; chairman, Legal Education and Training Committee, Quebec Section of the C.B.A., 1964-1965; chairman of the C.B.A.’s Special Committee on constitutional and International Law; United Nations Association in Canada; Canadian Institute of International Affairs, Montreal Branch; The Royal Commonwealth Society, Montreal Branch. He was a Canadian Council on International Law life member, a member of the board of editors, Canadian Year Book International Law, a director, Canadian Human Rights Foundation and governor of the Canadian Council on Unity.

An active member of the Jewish community, Cohen was chairman, Public Relations Committee, Zionist Organization of Canada, 1952-1965; chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress, 1965-1967; honorary legal Adviser, Israel Bond Organization; and a director of Canadian Friends of Haifa University. Between 1980 and 1982, Cohen acted as chairman, Canadian Jewish Congress Select Committee on the Constitution of Canada.

Throughout his life, Cohen was a prolific writer and he aired his views on a wide variety of subjects in contributions to magazines and newspapers. The recipient of many honorary degrees, Cohen received the Order of Canada in 1976 and was appointed Emeritus Professor at McGill University in 1978. He was also an honorary member of the Engineering Institute of Canada.

Featured Portrait: Maxwell Cohen, Aline Gubbay, [ca.1950], Jewish Public Library Archives Montreal, JPL-021011
First Clipping: Prof. Maxwell Cohen to represent Canada. (1981, December 4). Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, p. 1.
Second Clipping: Public Service Dinner May 11. (1961, May 4). Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, p. 1.
Third Clipping: Being honoured for exceptional service. (1982, March 19). Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, p. 1, 19.