06/19/2014 04:00 EDT | Updated 08/19/2014 05:59 EDT

Peter MacKay defends comments, says too few women apply to be judges

Justice Minister Peter MacKay seems to be standing by his comments that the reason there are so few women appointed as judges is that too few apply.

At an event with the Ontario Bar Association last week, MacKay is reported to have backed up his statement by explaining that women have a closer bond to their children than men, and therefore the path to the bench is too demanding for them.

Arleen Huggins was among the lawyers in attendance at the event.

"It was a very disappointing response, a very frustrating experience, personally and professionally," she said in an interview with CBC News.

Opposition pounces

Huggins is also the president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers and the person who asked MacKay in a question and answer session about the lack of women and minorities on the bench.

"To have Minister MacKay say these comments," she added, "certainly made us feel … really, you just put up your hands and say, 'Really? What more do we have to do?'"

Today in the House of Commons, the opposition jumped on the comments.

Scott Brison, a Liberal MP, called them part of the Conservatives' "war on modernity" and "Archie Bunker-inspired policies."

"When will this government realize Ward and June Cleaver are dead and when will they stop trying to drag Canada back to the 1950s," he asked.

"Women have babies — that's not news," added the NDP's Megan Leslie, "Can the minister outline what actions he's taking and already taken to ensure our courts are more representative of our communities."

MacKay defends record

MacKay said his comments are being mischaracterized and defended his government's record in appointing women to the bench. 

"Since 2006, I'm extremely proud to inform the House that we have appointed 182 excellent women to the superior courts."

Earlier in the day, however, when asked by reporters if he believes women have a stronger bond with children than men, MacKay said, "They do. In early childhood there's no question that women have a bigger bond with their children."

"As far as more women applying to be judges — we need more women to apply to be judges," he said. "It's that simple."

No numbers on applications

Huggins, however, challenges that assertion.

She said there's no way MacKay can know the problem lies in the application process because, she said, the government doesn't collect data on who is applying.

"Show us the numbers; what are you talking about?" she said, "Show us who is applying, show us who is getting through the process, show us who is being recommended — and then tell us that."