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Cotler shrugs off Russia ban, says he was poisoned there

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Liberal MP says Russiam Embassy apologized for 2006 Moscow incident, in which he vomited blood.

Irwin Cotler says he considers his being banned from Russia “a badge of honour.”

The Montreal Liberal MP is among 13 Canadian legislators and officials whom the Russian government announced on March 24 are not allowed into the country. It was a response to the sanctions Canada imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea.

“I wear my exclusion from Russia as a badge of honour and am proud to be in such distinguished company,” Cotler said in a statement,

Among the others banished are House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer; Wayne Wouters, clerk of the Privy Council; and Paul Grod, head of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

“I have no intention of visiting Siberia. I have no investments in Sochi. I have no desire to visit Moscow and be poisoned as happened on my last trip,” Cotler said.

Cotler was referring to 2006 when he was in Russia as part of a parliamentary delegation. He dined in Moscow with NDP MP Joe Comartin, and they ordered exactly the same meal.

Comartin was fine, but Cotler became “violently ill” soon after.

“I started to throw up blood. I called the people in the hotel and told them I needed a doctor. Instead of sending a doctor, they sent people to clean up all the blood – in other words, all the evidence that a doctor would need.”

With the assistance of the Canadian Embassy, Cotler was admitted to hospital in Moscow, where he stayed several days, but never learned what was wrong with him.

His symptoms, he discovered, were similar to those of KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko, who was fatally poisoned that year. “Except that they, in my case, probably just wanted to intimidate me and temporarily disable me, but not to kill me.”

Cotler said his suspicions were given weight in 2010, when he was in contact with a Russian Embassy official in Ottawa on another matter. When invited to visit Russia, Cotler replied, “‘You know, the last time when I was there, I was poisoned.’ And then, just like that, the answer was, ‘We’re sorry. That was a mistake. It won’t happen again.’”

This is not the first time, the veteran lawyer and human rights activist has been banned from Russian territory.

In 1979 he was expelled from the Soviet Union while advocating on behalf of political prisoners, including Natan Sharansky.

Cotler said he’s not intimidated by this new ban.

“Indeed, [the March 24] announcement only inspires me to redouble my efforts to advance the cause of human rights for all.”

He said he looks forward to the day when President Vladimir Putin is no longer in power.

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