Question Period Note: Translation bureau virtual interpretation capacity

About

Reference number:
PSPC-2022-QP-00018
Date received:
Jun 8, 2022
Organization:
Public Services and Procurement Canada
Name of Minister:
Tassi, Filomena (Hon.)
Title of Minister:
Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Issue/Question:

The Translation Bureau continues to work with the House Administration, Senate Administration and all partners to support Parliament’s virtual sittings while ensuring the health and safety of its interpreters.

Suggested Response:

  • The Translation Bureau is committed to providing quality linguistic services in support of Parliament and federal government departments and agencies
    • The Translation Bureau serves Parliament on a priority basis and works in close collaboration with its parliamentary partners to support Parliament’s virtual sittings and to plan for future demand
    • Ensuring the health and safety of interpreters is a priority for the Government of Canada, and the Translation Bureau has put in place a number of measures to safeguard interpreters in collaboration with our parliamentary partners, who are responsible for the technical environment
    • Technical requirements have been developed and working conditions have been modified for both staff and freelance interpreters to establish optimal conditions for interpreters to provide high-quality service in a safe environment (i.e. implementing technical requirements, reducing the length of assignments and increasing the number of interpreters per assignment) without reducing their compensation
    • As of February 2022, all participants in virtual meetings with interpretation for Government of Canada clients must use an external unidirectional microphone; interpretation services will not be provided for participants who do not meet this requirement

If pressed on interpreter health and safety:

  • Protecting interpreters’ health and safety continues to be our top priority
  • Public Services and Procurement Canada continues to monitor the situation in Canada and around the world to make informed decisions and implement the best safety measures for interpreters providing distance interpretation
  • The Translation Bureau has reduced the working hours of interpreters assigned to remote interpretation to reflect the increased effort to interpret virtual sessions and has implemented mandatory requirements, such as a unidirectional microphone, for events with interpretation

If pressed on the complaint from CAPE against the Translation Bureau:

  • Ensuring the health and safety of interpreters is a priority for the Government of Canada, and the Translation Bureau has put in place a number of measures to safeguard interpreters as remote interpretation becomes increasingly common
  • The Translation Bureau continues to work with the House Administration, who is responsible for the technology, to strengthen the technical requirements for interpretation in virtual sessions
  • The Translation Bureau actively monitors the situation in Canada and elsewhere in the world, and draws on international best practices to implement optimal protection measures

If pressed on Motion 11 (extended sitting times) adopted by the House of Commons:

  • The Translation Bureau maintains its collaboration with the House of Commons and the Senate, in order to assign its resources according to the priorities dictated by their respective administrations

If pressed on interpretation capacity:

  • As we are facing an unprecedented volume of remote interpretation requests, we are working with clients to plan and monitor demand carefully, leveraging contracts where appropriate
  • Demand for interpretation services can greatly fluctuate and PSPC appreciates freelance interpreters who continue to provide their services to respond to this varying demand
  • The conference interpretation profession is a shortage group, not only in Canada, but around the world

If pressed on the next generation of interpreters:

  • The Translation Bureau works in collaboration with the two universities that offer the Master degree in interpretation, University of Ottawa and York University, to train the next generation of interpreters
  • The Translation Bureau holds annual accreditation exams to increase the pool of qualified interpreters

Background:

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Translation Bureau has worked closely with the House Administration on the implementation of virtual parliamentary meetings. The Translation Bureau’s operations have been adjusted to respond to the changing working conditions. These conditions have improved over time and the Translation Bureau continues to work with the House Administration, who is responsible for the technical environment, to find sustainable solutions to reduce the risk of health and safety incidents and interruptions in service due to technical problems related to remote participation in meetings.

Certain criteria must be met in order for distance interpretation to work. These include:

  • As of February 7, 2022, the Translation Bureau requires that all participants of Government of Canada meetings with interpretation use a unidirectional microphone to ensure clear sound quality. Interpretation services will not be provided for participants who do not meet this requirement
  • Participants must appear via videoconference so that interpreters can see the speakers and communicate their message effectively
  • Participants must adhere to the meeting rules, such as muting their microphones when not speaking and speaking when given the floor
  • As always, participants who plan to read written statements must provide them in advance to interpreters

Abiding by these criteria will not eliminate the risk service interruptions, but it will greatly reduce this risk and help ensure the best possible interpretation.

In January 2022, International Association of Conference Interpreters released a document entitled: Declaration on Auditory Health, to draw attention to concerns that sustained exposure to dynamically compressed sound from videoconference platforms may cause irreversible damage to the hearing of interpreters. This declaration calls for a number of measures to protect interpreters. The Translation Bureau has already put in place a number of these measures and is in the process of putting in place other measures proposed by AIIC.

Translation Bureau health and safety

With the increased use of videoconferences, there has been an increase in health and safety incident reports from interpreters, citing headaches, earaches and fatigue due to poor sound quality.

In 2020, the House of Commons installed new interpretation consoles, which respect the latest ISO standards and include sound limiters that prevent acoustic shock.

The Translation Bureau also requires its clients to respect technical requirements that protect the health of its interpreters and provide for high-quality interpretation. These include having a qualified audiovisual technician present at all times, requiring that remote participants use unidirectional microphones, have a stable broadband Internet connection, and provide documents to interpreters before or at the start of meetings.

The Translation Bureau’s approach is aligned with international best practices, including the AIIC principles, guidance for institutions and best practices. The Translation Bureau agrees with AIIC’s position on the precautionary principle and has reduced interpreters working hours in remote interpretation in order to reduce their exposure to sound. In addition, it has sponsored research and testing, including tendering a contract to study and track interpreter hearing health, in order to gather data on the impact of processed sound on auditory health. The Translation Bureau is seen as a leader in the field and will continue to cooperate with AIIC and share information as it becomes available.

On February 17, 2022, the Translation Bureau’s CEO appeared before the House of Commons’ Board of Internal Economy (BOIE) to address interpretation capacity and issues related to the health and safety of interpreters. The CEO appeared a second time on March 3, 2022 in order to answer additional questions.

Complaint by CAPE

The Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), the union representing Translation Bureau staff interpreters, advised that they have filed a complaint on January 31, 2022, against the Translation Bureau under Part II of the Canada Labour Code, for failing to put in place the necessary measures to eliminate or reduce the health and safety risks to interpreters.

On April 22, 2022, CAPE President Greg Phillips met with Bloc Québécois party whip Claude DeBellefeuille, also a member of BOIE, and Mario Beaulieu, Official Languages critic and Vice-Chair, Standing Committee on Official Languages (LANG). Both MPs committed to working collaboratively with CAPE to see a resolution of this issue. CAPE has met with all five political parties represented in Parliament since the issue was flagged. The issue has also been highlighted in the media.

Demand for interpretation services

Demand for interpretation services can fluctuate greatly. To better meet demand, the Translation Bureau collaborates with its clients to plan and prioritize their needs in advance, and retains the services of freelancers as required. The Translation Bureau serves Parliament in priority and works closely with the House Administration, which determines where resources are allocated based on House priorities. When demand exceeds capacity for a given time slot, the House administration consults party whips to obtain direction on which meetings will obtain the resources required.

On May 2, 2022, the House of Commons adopted Motion 11, which indicates that until June 23, 2022, the ordinary hour of daily adjournment of the House shall be 12:00 a.m. The potential for significantly extended sitting times in the House is of great concern to senators, due to on-going shortage of interpreters and the Translation Bureau’s reduced capacity to provide simultaneous interpretation services. The Translation Bureau acknowledges these concerns and will continue to work with all key stakeholders to ensure that Parliamentary clients’ priorities are being met.

Contracts with freelance interpreters

The Translation Bureau has seen a significant increase in distance interpretation since the beginning of the pandemic. A new open contract for interpretation was developed in consultation with the interpreter community and came into effect on July 1, 2021.

These procurement processes are important for the Translation Bureau’s capacity to deliver services in collaboration with the freelance interpreter community. That said, freelance interpreters are also solicited by the private sector, and the Translation Bureau has to work with the availability they provide, which is why the number of resources available varies on a daily basis.

Next generation of interpreters

The conference interpretation profession is a shortage group, not only in Canada, but around the world. The Bureau hires all graduates from the two Canadian Universities that offer the Masters programs in interpretation who meet the Bureau’s quality standards. Since the advent of simultaneous interpretation in the Parliament of Canada, the Translation Bureau has worked to increase the number of qualified staff and freelance interpreters it can rely on.

Research studies

The Translation Bureau has 3 studies underway or completed on technology, sound quality and interpreters’ auditory health:

  • The Translation Bureau commissioned a report from the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) on sound quality and sound pressure levels to which interpreters are exposed, including in video conferences, and to test the performance of the devices that are used to protect interpreters’ hearing (PreservEar). The NRC report confirmed that the hearing protection systems used provide excellent protection against acoustic shocks. However, it also concluded that the quality of the sound that reaches interpreters’ ears is inferior to the quality of the sound received by the participants directly connected to Zoom
  • The Translation Bureau is developing a collaborative project with researchers from the University of Ottawa specializing in the perception of speech in noise, in order to perform hearing tests on interpreters over time, develop benchmarks and present recommendations following acoustic incidents
  • The Translation Bureau is working with the University of Geneva, Switzerland, on a research study into whether and how distance interpretation affects cognitive load and performance of interpreters

Providing services in Indigenous languages

The Translation Bureau has a roster of over 100 suppliers covering over 50 Indigenous languages and dialects.

Additional Information:

None

Date modified: