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Parents of twins lose their bid for twice the benefits

The parents of Athena and Lucie Martin argued that taking care of two babies requires more work than one.

An Ottawa couple have lost the latest chapter of their struggle to get double paid parental benefits for their twins, but plan to press on even though the girls are now toddlers.

A judge hearing the case ruled that an earlier decision that awarded both Christian Martin and Paula Critchley full parental leave benefits to care for their daughters contravened federal Employment Insurance rules.

"It is entirely legitimate for the government to make choices in the allocation of benefits and it should be permitted a degree of latitude in so doing, as it is an exercise which is almost always bound to seem arbitrary to those falling on the wrong side of the line," wrote Mr. Justice Russel Zinn, a Federal Court judge who acted as umpire in the case.

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Despite the decision, Mr. Martin, whose daughters are now two years old and attend daycare, plans to appeal the case to the Federal Court of Appeal.

"At this point, I'm doing this to try to make a difference," said Mr. Martin, a 35-year-old researcher. "I really see this as being a problem that affects a lot of people and if this can get resolved at some point in the future … it'll make a difference to a lot of people's lives."

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.

Since Mr. Martin won his initial appeal, the national support group for parents of multiples has renewed calls for the federal government to change its benefits policy to allow both parents of multiples to receive EI for up to 35 weeks. 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.

Stephen Moreau, Mr. Martin's lawyer, said he believes the matter merits a more complete ruling from an appellate court.

"We're disappointed with the decision," he said. "We have some confidence of success … due to the fact that we do think that the EI Act, when read correctly, leads to a different conclusion."

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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Judge Zinn rejected the argument, writing: "The fact that caring for twins may involve more work than caring for a single newborn does not prove historical disadvantage that perpetuates prejudice and stereotyping."

Anna Maddison, a spokeswoman for Human Resources and Skills Development, declined to comment on the ruling, noting that it remains subject to judicial review.

After a difficult pregnancy, 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 Mr. 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.

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