During the last legislative session the federal government introduced Bill C-3 to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code. Changes to the Criminal Code prohibit intimidation and protests at healthcare facilities while changes to the Canada Labour Code provide federally-regulated, private sector workers with 10 days of paid sick leave. During the same session, MP Tom Kmiec introduced a Private Member’s bill (Bill C-211) to expand bereavement leave for the loss of a child.
Private Members’ bills in Canada are notoriously difficult to pass given the absence of government sponsorship and limited time for debate. However, following negotiations between the government and Official Opposition, amendments were introduced to Bill C-3 to include substantive parts of Kmiec’s bill. The amended bill passed through all stages in the House of Commons and the Senate before the Christmas break.
Previously, the Labour Code guaranteed bereavement leave to employees for up to 10 days, roughly within a six-week period of the death of an immediate family member (see Section 210). For employees who have completed three months of work, the first three days are paid. With Bill C-3, the Labour Code now provides extended bereavement leave to parents upon the death of a child under 18 years old, a dependent child of any age with a mental/physical disability, or in the event of a stillbirth (defined as an unborn child after 20 weeks of pregnancy). In these cases, parents may take up to two months of unpaid leave roughly within a three-month period of their child’s death. These leave provisions in the case of stillbirth make Canada a leading jurisdiction globally, along with New Zealand that also passed a bill earlier in 2021 providing three days of paid bereavement leave to parents following a miscarriage or stillbirth.
WHY IT MATTERS
Analysis of the other provisions of Bill C-3 notwithstanding, the expansion of bereavement leave is a positive step for Canadian families and in turn, all Canadians. Through this amendment Canadian parliamentarians have recognized one of the most defining human bonds – that of a parent and their child. These changes also recognize the fundamental dignity of children at early stages of development and regardless of mental or physical disability. The legislation further recognizes the significant and complex impact of a child’s death on both mothers and fathers. By guaranteeing an extended leave the changes dignify an individual’s grief and, quite compassionately, recognize that grief is neither linear nor brief.
It is important to note that the Canada Labour Code only applies to federally-regulated workers, such as those who work at airports, the federal civil service, or in telecommunications. Given that an estimated 15% to 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, provincial legislatures should consider expanding bereavement leave provisions to cover provincially-regulated workers. For example, a Private Member’s bill was introduced in Alberta to expand eligibility for bereavement leave to instances of stillbirth or miscarriage, but did not pass during the Legislature’s fall sitting. Employers in all sectors should proactively extend their bereavement leave policies in the absence of legislative changes. Labour unions should also look to extend existing bereavement leave provisions in collective agreements in this manner.
In sum, the bereavement leave provisions of Bill C-3 affirm the parent-child relationship, the fundamental dignity of the human person, and the bonds within a whole family. They represent a positive step in Canadian policy-making and should be further entrenched at other levels of government, and in employer and labour practices.