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Alberta mom disappointed with Ottawa’s ‘no’ vote on infant loss leave

WATCH: It's a setback but not the end of the fight for parents advocating for change to infant loss support in Canada. New parents who suffer the loss of a baby while on parental leave also lose parental leave financial benefits. Kim Smith explains.

LISTEN ABOVE: Sarah Cormier describes her disappointment following a recent vote in the House of Commons 

Earlier this month, members of Parliament voted against an amendment to C-86 brought forward by the Conservatives to ensure parents would be entitled to 12 weeks of leave following the death of a child.

“Utter disappointment,” said Sarah Cormier, from her home in Airdrie, Alta. “We’ve worked so hard.”

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Quinn’s story

This month marks four years since Cormier’s daughter Quinn died suddenly in her sleep when she was four months old — or 18 weeks.

“We’re still processing. The triggers come when you least expect it,” Cormier said.

Three days after her daughter’s death, Cormier’s parental leave benefits were cut off.

“When we lost Quinn, we were standing at Service Canada and presenting a birth and a death certificate and being told you needed to go back to work.

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“We just realized that this couldn’t just be happening to us,” Cormier said.

READ MORE: ‘The child lived, they had a name’: Ontario parents hope to end stigma of early infant loss

Cormier’s husband went back to work almost immediately, while Cormier took six weeks of unpaid leave from work.

“Let’s be honest, we were not good employees.”

Infant loss benefits

Currently, the 35-week-long parental leave (or 61 weeks extended leave) employment insurance benefits cease immediately upon the death of the baby, meaning some parents would need to go back to work immediately. (Maternity leave benefits, which is only for the mother giving birth, would continue up to 15 weeks after labour).

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READ MORE: Canada to study effects of early infant loss to support grieving parents

In a statement, Véronique Simard, press secretary to federal Minister of Employment Patty Hajdu said:

“Losing a child is one of the worst things a parent can experience.

“We understand that parents need time to grieve, which is why they are already eligible for bereavement leaves under the Canada Labour Code.

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“Currently, workers are entitled to different bereavement leaves that can range from three days to 104 weeks. Mothers continue to be eligible for their 17 weeks of maternity leave in the event of perinatal death. Through our amendments to the Canada Labour Code, we’re ensuring that all Canadian workers will benefit from modernized labour standards.”

(To clarify, women who give birth can receive 17 weeks leave, 15 of which they’d receive employment insurance benefits.)

READ MORE: Parents who lose their baby being forced back to work too soon: Conservative MP

Conservative MP Blake Richards previously tabled a non-partisan private member’s motion (Motion 110) in Parliament aimed at “fixing a serious flaw” and helping parents who suffer the loss of an infant child. In June, the motion was sent to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) for further study.

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Last week, Richards told Global News that the process has been slow, so that’s why the Conservatives brought forward the 12-week amendment.

“I was obviously incredibly disappointed but it’s not the end of the road either,” Richards said.

The Standing Committee is expected to release its report on infant loss in the new year.