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Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay and his wife, Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay, at the 2012 Garrison Ball. (JJ Thompson For The Globe and Mail)
Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay and his wife, Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay, at the 2012 Garrison Ball. (JJ Thompson For The Globe and Mail)

Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay

An open letter to Leah McLaren Add to ...

Dear Leah,

Thank you for the open letter.

I would like to assure you that I also would have been outraged if my husband had actually stated what he is accused of saying in media headlines about women judges. Peter informed me (and the public in an open letter available on his Facebook page) that he said no such thing. He told me that he actually called on the Ontario bar to do more to promote women and to encourage them to apply to become judges. A correct statement, supported before and since by female judges he has spoken to.

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This was similar to a speech he gave to the Nova Scotia bar association last fall.

Leah, my husband later made a passing reference at this small event about 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.

Peter was speaking to a closed session of lawyers, some of whom are now publicly attacking him, yet they refuse to release the actual tape of the speech he gave. He asked them for the transcript so that he can put the accusations to rest and they flatly refused to release it. Instead, they run to the anti-Conservative media with hearsay and, of course, he is savaged by his accusers, political opponents and press.

So much for transparency and accountability. Ironically he is presumed guilty without any evidence, only hearsay. 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. But I believe basic truth should still matter in our country.

Leah, I don’t feel I have led a sheltered existence with regard to how the media work. I understand very well the rush to get out a hot story on any leading political public figure. That is simply feeding the 24-hour news cycle, National Enquirer-TMZ mentality. But I would like to believe that in Canada, there would at least be a minimal amount of required fact-checking. In this case, the Toronto Star found it easier to spin out a story quickly and then it is followed by other publications rushing to mimic the story. I wonder if the people who are refusing to release the transcripts fear that they have slandered my husband.

I have often heard Peter speak, publicly and privately, in support of not only female lawyers but women’s issues in general. I believe the fact that he was raised by a single mother (an active feminist for 50 years) and two caring grandmothers, and has three dynamic sisters (all working mothers) to whom he is very close, gives him an important perspective and strong respect for our gender.

Leah, were you aware that his closest working partners in his office are predominantly women, including the chief of staff, the director of communications, the press secretary and all his constituency assistants and regional directors?

It is interesting to note that the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards that everyone is getting so worked up over were drafted by female Department of Justice staffers and approved and released by the respected women I’ve listed above. That is not “making excuses”, “throwing people under the bus” or “passing the buck,” as some tweeters have suggested. It is simply factual. The National Post’s John Ivison asked him the question in an e-mail and he responded with the truth. Yes, Peter approves all statements, but that’s how it was written.

My husband’s skin has grown thicker with time, but he worries about what I and the rest of our family think more than anything. Yet I see the hours he puts in around his constituency and the time he spends on the road as Justice Minister, as he did previously as Minister of Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs, away from his loved ones at home. Since the time I’ve known him when he was Foreign Affairs Minister, I have been repeatedly impressed by his empathy and compassion for women and those in need.

I recall how, as Defence Minister, he spent numerous holidays, including Christmas, Canada Day, Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day, in Afghanistan away from his family because the soldiers he cared about “had to do the same.” I know how emotional he became when discussing the efforts in Afghanistan to immunize children and to build hospitals and schools so that all children and especially young girls could get an education and have hopeful futures.

Thankfully I’ve found my full-time partner in Peter and I couldn’t be happier. I am proud of the man he is, sensitive to all my needs. It truly is a blessing and one I give thanks for every day. I wish you and everyone the same happiness.

Our son, Kian, is still less than a year and a half. I am the type of person who commits fully, whether as an activist or as a mother. It was and is fully my decision to put my career on hold, to be a full-time mother, and I honestly believe there is no more important job in the world. I am blessed to have the opportunity to nurture my child in mind, body and soul. Peter supports me entirely in my choice. When I decide to return full-time to my chosen profession, he will support me in that endeavour as well.

I have again started to immerse myself in my human-rights work helping women, minority groups, political prisoners, refugees and, of course, Iranians on their path to freedom and democracy. While my Web page is under construction, my Facebook page is fully active. The Nazanin Foundation, which supports initiatives in support of women and children in Canada and abroad, is now registered and will become increasingly active in these important areas.

I was excited to be a part of the Honor Diaries documentary that was released and celebrated by the media around the world, drawing much-needed attention to a very disturbing issue for women.

This fall, A Bold Vision will convene, and I will participate with 22 other female leaders and we together will develop and share our vision for Canada for the next 150 years. Just as the Fathers of Confederation did, but this time it will be the “Mothers of Confederation.”

Referring to when you interviewed me for Chatelaine magazine regarding my book, I am happy to update everyone with the good news that Nazanin Fatehi and I have reconnected since the publication of The Tale of Two Nazanins. She recently got married and is in a healthy, happy place. This is a fantastic outcome of a very intense true story.

Leah, with regards to your comment on dads “rolling up their sleeves,” Peter has been incredibly supportive since our marriage and the birth of our son. Even after often putting in 16-hour workdays as the main income earner in our household, he does all the sewing (his grandfather taught him), mows the lawn and takes out the garbage and recycling. He does most of the laundry and heavy cleaning in our house. We happily share housework and cooking. We both change diapers, bathe Kian, dress him, play with him and love him. Cameras are not rolling when Peter reads to Kian before bed, or does the grocery shopping, picks up medicine and attends doctor’s appointments.

Leah, I hope you can see from all that I’ve written in this open letter that my husband and I have always, and will always, continue to work to advance the future of women in any way that we can, both in Canada and around the world.

Faithfully, Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay

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