Ottawa couple fighting for twin parental leaves

A couple expecting two babies at the same time is fighting for the right to take one paid parental leave for each child.

A couple expecting two babies at the same time is fighting for the right to take one paid parental leave for each child.

Christian Martin and Paula Critchley were thrilled and excited to learn that they will be having twins next spring.

"But we're nervous because it's two and I would have a hard time taking care of both of them on my own," said Critchley.

When a birth or adoption takes place in Canada, the parents may take a total of 35 weeks of parental leave, while receiving benefits under Canada's Employment Insurance program. The weeks taken by each parent are added together, so if both parents take the leave at the same time, they only get paid parental leave for 17.5 weeks (although the birth mother may also take 15 weeks of maternity leave).

The rule applies no matter how many children are born or adopted by the parents at the same time.

The couple sent a letter to Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, who is responsible for the employment insurance program, arguing that parents of twins should receive 35 weeks of parental leave for each child.

"It seems that two children bring double the responsibility and therefore a second claimant should be able to claim a second child," said Martin.

According to Multiple Births Canada, around two per cent of Canadian births involve multiples and more than 4,000 sets of twins are born across the country each year.

Law should allow second claimant: father-to-be

Critchley said she and Martin have been told she will need help to take care of two babies, and they have no family in the Ottawa area to help them. If Martin doesn't receive parental leave, she will have to ask her mother to come from Newfoundland to help her.

Martin said he believes the law is written in such a way that it should allow a second claimant to receive benefits for a second child.

He added that he will apply for EI as a second claimant once the twins are born next spring, and if his request is rejected, he plans to appeal the decision and take the government to court.

The Multiple Birth Families Association of Ottawa is supporting the couple's fight.

Jay Thompson, president of the association, said she thinks the next logical step for the country's parental leave program would be to allow families with multiple children born at the same time to either have both parents at home at the same time for a year or allow a two-year leave for one parent.

Parents who have one child and then wait a year or two before having another are entitled to up to 35 weeks of parental leave for each child.

Martin pointed out that both he and Critchley pay into the employment insurance program, so if they lost their jobs at the same time, they would both be entitled to full benefits.