Thank you, and good morning, members of the committee. Greetings from Toronto, and for Ms. Leitch, greetings from Wasaga Beach, where I visited a cottage a few weeks ago.
I will be brief. I'm speaking very specifically about clauses 15 and 21, which are the clauses that deal with enhancing or clarifying the ability to provide a sickness benefit during a parental leave period. I'm only speaking to that smaller set of amendments in Bill C-44.
I should open by saying that although I'm going to speak a little more narrowly about those particular provisions, the fact that I don't touch on some of the points Ms. MacEwen makes shouldn't be taken to mean I don't agree with her. I think everything Ms. MacEwen said about the employment insurance system and some of its problematic aspects are entirely true.
In fact, the Federal Court of Appeal, in a case called Lazure, essentially echoed some of these comments that the witness made without necessarily finding a violation of what we call section 15 equality rights in the charter, but it did find that the act does disproportionately affect women in the workforce. Insofar as the committee is looking at that, what Witness MacEwen has to say is entirely accurate and should be paid special attention to.
As I said, I'm focusing specifically on clauses 15 and 21, the addition of the sickness benefit. In my view, this is a provision that on its face does call for the committee's support. I believe it is helpful to clarify in the Employment Insurance Act that an individual, and it's predominantly a woman, who falls ill during their parental leave should be entitled to claim a sickness leave benefit.
I approach this from a different perspective from most, if not all, of the witnesses who have presented to the committee. I am a lawyer, and more specifically I'm a lawyer to a number of individuals who have successfully made EI sickness leave claims during or toward the end of their parental leave. My specialty is employment insurance, and I have litigated quite a number of employment insurance cases. From my perspective, the main reason to support this bill is that through my work I've come to believe that the special benefits are of great assistance to working Canadians.
Once you start paying additional benefits to people for socially good reasons, such as caring for children, caring for relatives, taking maternity leave, or because of illness...paying people during temporary periods of unemployment does help with their return to the marketplace. It does serve the main purpose of employment insurance, which is to provide for a gradual return to the market. So I support any additional provisions that provide for additional benefits.
I want to stress, though, and you may have seen this in my brief, that while I support Bill C-44, and particularly again clauses 15 and 21 and those amendments as clarificatory provisions, the reality is that these provisions are not specifically necessary. Bill C-49 in 2002 already provided for those benefits, for the ability of individuals who fall sick during their parental leave to make a sickness claim during their parental leave. Those provisions and that interpretation of those provisions were upheld in the umpire award under the EI Act, which I provided as appendix A to my brief.
To some extent, while I support the bill as a means of clarification, I do not necessarily stand with the idea that the bill is, strictly speaking, necessary. That being said, the fact that historically the House and this committee have supported these kinds of provisions in the past is another reason why we should consider supporting Bill C-44 and in particular clauses 15 and 21.
I don't want to say anything more at this point, as I do want to leave plenty of time for questions, which I always think are helpful.
Again, I thank you for this opportunity to present, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.