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The Globe and Mail

Parents of twins take fight for benefits to Supreme Court

As part of its attempts to deny an Ottawa couple double paid parental leaves for their twins, the federal government is citing a study with a counterintuitive conclusion: Longer maternity leaves do not improve early child development. The government is challenging a ruling that granted both Christian Martin and Paula Critchley full parental leave benefits to care for their baby girls, arguing that the 2009 decision contravened federal Employment Insurance rules. Athena and Lucie Martin are shown in this photo provided by the family.

An Ottawa couple plans to take their struggle for double parental benefits for their twins to the Supreme Court after losing an appeal.

The Federal Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that an earlier decision to deny both Christian Martin and Paula Critchley full Employment Insurance benefits to care for their daughters was not discriminatory under the Charter.

"I'm disappointed. We've worked hard at this," said Mr. Martin, 36. "We're trying to do what's right and fix what I believe to be a glaring problem in how the system handles multiple birth situations and I'm having a hard time getting through to authorities and it is very frustrating. But the only thing I can do is keep fighting."

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Mr. Martin, whose daughters are now 3 1/2 and attend daycare, said he will ask the Supreme Court of Canada to consider an appeal. He is also urging politicians to change the rules to allow both parents of twins, triplets and higher-order multiples to claim full EI benefits.

In November, the NDP introduced a private member's bill that would double parental leave for the parents of multiples. The rules currently restrict new parents to a combined maximum of 35 weeks of parental benefits; mothers get an additional 15 weeks of maternity benefits.

Ms. Critchley gave birth on April 21, 2009, to identical twins Athena and Lucie, who were five weeks premature. Shortly after the girls were born, Ms. Critchley applied for 35 weeks of parental EI benefits to care for Athena and Mr. Martin applied for the same to care for Lucie.

The Employment Insurance Commission rejected Mr. Martin's claim. He appealed and his lawyer Stephen Moreau successfully argued that the couple's EI benefits should not be restricted to one combined claim because the twins are the result of a single pregnancy. The federal government won its appeal of that decision, which Mr. Martin then challenged at the Federal Court of Appeal.

In the ruling, Mr. Justice Marc Nadon of the Federal Court of Appeal acknowledged that caring for multiples is more onerous, but found that their parents are not treated unfairly under the EI system.

"I would add that although the care of twins or, for that matter, any other multiples, necessarily involves more work than caring for a single child, it does not establish the kind of historical disadvantage that perpetuates prejudice or stereotyping," he wrote for a panel of three judges.

Part of the family's fight centred around an argument that it is discriminatory to deny double paid parental benefits to qualifying parents of twins since taking care of two babies requires more effort than for a singleton.

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Due largely to fertility treatments, multiple births are soaring in Canada, with more than 4,000 sets of twins, triplets and higher-order multiples born each year.

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