Skip to main content

Peter MacKay, his wife Nazanin Afshin-Jam and baby Kian arrive at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, July 15, 2013. MacKay was sworn in as minister of justice. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean KilpatrickSean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Let's start with some indisputable facts: In Canada, one in five citizens belongs to a visible minority. Women and girls comprise just over half of the country's population. Yet the number of individuals from these groups being selected to serve on the federally appointed judiciary by the Conservative government are, respectively, almost nil and pathetic.

The striking lack of diversity among superior court judges is hardly a new phenomenon. In the past 5 1/2 years, Ottawa appointed just a handful of non-white judges out of the nearly 200 first-time justices it has named to the bench, according to a Globe and Mail and University of Ottawa analysis. Female judges account for 383 out of 1,120 judges on federally appointed courts. These numbers raise deeply troubling questions of how justice in this country can be properly served by a bench that is, overwhelmingly, a white, male bastion. The appointment process itself is disturbingly opaque. Judges are appointed behind closed doors, with virtually no information given as to the reasons why.

Arguably, the best person in the country to offer insight into the process of federal appointments and why the process produces such a demographically skewed judiciary is Justice Minister Peter MacKay. But when asked about the lack of women and visible minorities on federally appointed court benches at an Ontario Bar Association meeting last week, he apparently offered what amounted to a feeble, sexist explanation: Women don't apply to be judges because they fear the job will take them away from their children – and their children need mothers more than their fathers: "At early childhood, there's no question, I think, that women have a greater bond with their children."

Mr. MacKay, a new father, is entitled to his opinion. However, he has offered no evidence that his statement is grounded in fact. The Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs does not track the numbers of visible-minority appointees. When it comes to women, the disproportionately low number of judicial appointees does not reveal the number of women who apply. Nor do the data attempt to capture the reasons why women don't. Mr. MacKay has yet to offer an explanation why the number of minority judges is so shockingly low, when several surveys suggest the pool of qualifying candidates is hardly shallow.

Ottawa should track the numbers of visible-minority and female judicial applicants. Canadians shouldn't have to rely on Mr. MacKay's conjectures to understand the reasons behind the lack of diversity. Unfortunately, without a more open and transparent selection process, we have no choice.