On the surface, it seems patently unfair to deny the parents of newborn twins, triplets and other multiple-birth children increased parental benefits. The Federal Court of Appeal doesn't see it that way, however, and ruled Thursday that parents caring for multiple newborns aren't being discriminated against under the Charter of Rights and Freedom when they are denied additional parental leave. The case may now be headed to the Supreme Court but, before it gets there, Ottawa should take matters into its own hands and amend the rules to bring a bit of common sense and fairness to the situation.
The case was brought by parents of identical twins. When their daughters were born in 2009, they both applied for the standard 35-week parental leave benefit, a benefit that is normally shared between each parent when a single child is born. In this case, the mother applied for the full leave to take care of one of the children, and the father did the same for the other child. The Employment Insurance Commission rejected the father's claim on the grounds the twins were the result of a single pregnancy. The couple overturned the commission's decision on appeal, but then the federal government stepped in, won its appeal in a lower court, and has now seen its appeal upheld.
It's hard to see the Charter merits of the case, although the couple says it will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. They feel they are being discriminated against, but the federal court ruled that having twins does not "establish the kind of historical disadvantage that perpetuates prejudice or stereotyping."
At the same time, the three-judge panel agreed that "the care of twins or, for that matter, any other multiples, necessarily involves more work than caring for a single child." And therein lies the unfairness of the current system. Canada needs children, and it needs policies that encourage parents to have them. The couple that produces twins or other multiple births is fulfilling this vital role in, to be frank, the most efficient way possible. Under the current rules, they are producing two children, in terms of cost to the government and lost working hours, for the price of one.
Look at it another way: Most couples will produce two children over the course of two pregnancies, and each time they will be eligible for the parental leave and will take time off work. The couple that gives birth to twins will not receive the same benefits or the same amount of time off. Ottawa recently introduced legislation to extend EI benefits to the parents of gravely ill or injured children, a recognition of the fact that not all parents face exactly the same challenges. We are not saying that Ottawa should allow the parents of twins and triplets to proportionately increase their parental leave, but it could certainly consider raising it from 35 weeks to acknowledge the peculiar difficulties and societal benefits of multiple births.