MacKay: 'Enough has been said' about sexism controversy
Justice Minister Peter MacKay said that “enough has been said about what I didn’t say” when asked whether he stands by comments he reportedly made about why there aren’t more female judges.
MacKay was asked about the ongoing controversy during an economic announcement in his home province of Nova Scotia on Friday. CTV’s Todd Battis asked if MacKay stands by comments he made to the Ontario Bar Association earlier this month, when he reportedly said that there aren’t as many female judges because fewer of them apply, choosing instead to bond with their children.
“I think enough has been said about what I didn’t say,” MacKay said. Asked to elaborate, MacKay replied: “I can’t help you with this story, I’m sorry.”
He would not say whether his comments were taken out of context, nor would he address his wife’s open letter in the Globe and Mail, published online late Thursday, defending her husband against an earlier open letter penned by one of the paper’s columnists, Leah McLaren.
In her open letter, Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay said the media is misconstruing her husband’s comments to the Ontario Bar Association earlier this month.
Afshin-Jam MacKay said that, in fact, her husband encouraged the Ontario bar to promote women and encourage them to seek appointment to the bench, which he followed with a reference to “the loving bond he had witnessed between our son, Kian, and myself.
“Somehow that reference about fewer women applying for judicial positions and his personal reflections about our family were tied together and misrepresented, causing an eruption of controversy.”
Afshin-Jam MacKay accused the bar association of refusing to release either a recording of his talk or a transcript, and said her husband is “presumed guilty” without evidence.
“I’ve never been directly involved in partisan politics, but I’m not naive and I know it’s a blood sport, as Peter often reminds me,” she wrote. “But I believe basic truth should still matter in our country.”
MacKay has faced heavy criticism since lawyers who attended the Ontario Bar Association event spoke out about his comments. Twitter users expressed their disappointment using the hashtag #AsAParent, and opposition MPs demanded that MacKay apologize.
MacKay defended himself during question period in the House of Commons last week, saying what had been reported was a “complete mischaracterization” of his words, and the Conservatives support initiatives that get more women to apply for a place on the bench.
The Canadian Bar Association, meanwhile, is calling for more diversity in the judiciary.
"It's an issue that's been a concern for the association for many, many years,” CBA president Fred Headon told CTV's Power Play on Friday.
Headon said tracking the demographics of lawyers who apply to the judiciary is already taking place at the provincial level in British Columbia, and it should be implemented at the federal level as well.
"We've been calling for statistics, and not stereotypes, so we can start to find those obstacles, find ways to overcome them and have a bench that's more reflective of the population," he said.
Email greetings stir more controversy for MacKay
Email greetings MacKay sent Justice Department staff for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day further fueled the controversy. The Mother’s Day email hailed women for the home and childcare duties they perform before arriving at the office, while the Father’s Day message made no mention of diapers or school lunches, and instead praised them for “shaping the minds and futures of the next generation of leaders.”
The emails were written by a female member of MacKay’s staff and then approved by the minister himself.
On Thursday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to replace MacKay in the Justice portfolio, saying he doesn’t understand equal rights as set out by the Charter of Rights.
In her open letter, MacKay’s wife said that her husband has “strong respect for our gender,” after having been raised by a single mother, two grandmothers, and three sisters.
The media and the public don’t see her husband mowing the lawn, cleaning the house or sewing, a skill his grandfather taught him, she wrote. The couple shares housework, cooking and childcare duties.
Afshin-Jam MacKay also defended her choice to devote herself to fulltime motherhood while her son, who is not yet 18 months, is small.
For now, she is slowly returning to her human-rights advocacy work, which she will resume full-time one day.
When that day comes, her husband “will support me in that endeavour as well.”