CBC News has obtained two emails MacKay sent to his staff, one marking Mother's Day and the other Father's Day.
The Mother's Day email congratulates "colleagues" who have "two full-time jobs: as hardworking department of justice employees during business hours, and as dedicated moms and caregivers around the clock."
Especially as he is now the father of an active toddler, MacKay wrote, he could understand, "By the time many of you have arrived at the office in the morning, you’ve already changed diapers, packed lunches, run after school buses, dropped kids off at daycare, taken care of an aging loved one and maybe even thought about dinner."
The Father's Day email had a different tone. In the message, MacKay praises male staff who are "dedicated fathers" and lauds them for "shaping the minds and futures of the next generation of leaders." The words "mould," "teach" and "guide" were employed to illustrate fathers' influence on their children.
The emails were sent to CBC News by two employees of the Justice Department.
Emails 'fairly ridiculous'
Erin Risock, a lawyer with the Ontario provincial government who is currently on maternity leave with her second child, called the emails "fairly ridiculous" when she read copies of them.
To Risock, the emails suggest that "only men are responsible for shaping the lives of our children and only women are responsible for the home."
In an interview in Toronto's Monarch Park, she said, "In my house, me and my husband have not two jobs, we have dozens of jobs. We share everything in our house fairly equally."
The emails surfaced in the wake of a Toronto Star story last week that quoted women who'd been at a meeting of the council of the Ontario Bar Association with MacKay. The article said that MacKay, when asked why there was a dearth of women and minority judges on federally appointed courts, said women just aren't applying to be judges.
MacKay is said to have suggested that women might be reluctant to go for the jobs, because they had young children at home and worried about the extensive travel new judges often have to undertake visiting different regional courts.
He was reported as saying that women have a special bond with their children.
MacKay responds on Facebook
On Monday, MacKay used his public Facebook page to hit back at the report, which he said contained "inaccurate and inflammatory rhetoric." He said quotes attributed to him were comments he did not make at the closed-door meeting.
MacKay finished with a list of notable female and minority judges appointed by his department, including the first appointment of an aboriginal woman to the Federal Court.
Kim Stanton, the legal director for LEAF, the women's legal education and action fund, told CBC News it's not known if women are not applying in sufficient numbers for federally appointed judging jobs. "In fact, if the stats in Ontario are anything to go by, women certainly are applying and they're being appointed in Ontario."
As for the emails that praised dads for guiding the minds of a future generation, Stanton said, "That's a wonderful message. but that's also what moms are doing. And moms are also to be valued and respected in the workplace, in the same kind of way."
Mary Ann Dewey-Plante, a spokeswoman for MacKay's office, asked about the Mother's Day and Father's Day emails, sent this response to CBC: "The minister takes every opportunity to thank the staff for their contribution to the department and to advancing justice issues on behalf of all Canadians."
Dewey-Plante pointed out that federal judge appointment are made on the advice of 17 judicial advisory committees across the country, adding that process has led to the placing of "182 excellent women to the superior and appeal courts of this country."
She also urged the judicial advisory committees, as well as the legal community, to do "a better job recommending diverse candidates for the bench.”