LANG Committee Report
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Honourable Denis Paradis
Standing Committee on Official Languages
House of Commons
I am pleased to respond, on behalf of the Government of Canada, to the Report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages entitled Study of the Translation Bureau. I can say with confidence that all of the Committee’s recommendations have been thoroughly reviewed, and carefully considered.
I thank the Standing Committee on Official Languages for the work it has done on this report, in particular the importance the report places on compliance with the provisions of the Official Languages Act by federal institutions and the role of the Translation Bureau in this regard.
The report describes the evolution of the Translation Bureau since its founding in 1934 and highlights the importance of this organization with respect to Canada’s linguistic duality. It also raises certain questions on the status of the Translation Bureau and its role in the application of the Official Languages Act. Lastly, it describes concerns about the Language Comprehension Tool that was adopted by the Translation Bureau and the use of the private sector for translation service delivery.
Our government is strongly committed to promoting official languages and ensuring compliance with spirit and requirements of the Official Languages Act. The mandate letter of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the mandate letter of the President of the Treasury Board clearly indicate that they must ensure that all federal services are provided in full compliance with the Official Languages Act. In addition to its responsibilities regarding the language of service, the Treasury Board is the entity responsible for the implementation of language of work in federal institutions. The Minister of Canadian Heritage must also develop a new multi-year official languages plan to promote official languages and support the development of Francophone and English speaking minority communities.
Role of translation in Canada’s linguistic duality
As mentioned in the report, many witnesses who appeared before the Committee “reiterated that translation plays an important role in Canada’s linguistic duality.” For our government, the Translation Bureau is of critical importance in the application of the Official Languages Act, including communication with the public, the language of work in the public service and the promotion of French and English in Canadian society. The Translation Bureau supports the Government of Canada in its efforts to communicate with, and provide services to, Canadians in the official language of their choice. The Translation Bureau Act and Translation Bureau Regulations provide authority for the important role played by the Bureau.
Over the years the Translation Bureau has successfully faced many challenges stemming from the evolution of the public service and Canadian society. The adoption of the Official Languages Act in 1969, and its replacement in 1988, as well as multiple provincial and territorial official languages policies has engrained our linguistic duality within the laws that support our society. The Translation Bureau has kept up with these changes by embracing new administrative flexibilities that have supported enhanced service delivery. This includes becoming a Special Operating Agency in 1995—meaning the Translation Bureau is now funded through appropriation and a cost-recovery model—as well as joining the Department of Public Services and Procurement.
Today, the Translation Bureau is supported by a cross-country network of language professionals; they have in-depth knowledge of government operations as well as the linguistic expertise and cultural knowledge required to offer quality services in over 100 Canadian Indigenous and foreign languages. In addition, over 75% of managers responsible for the delivery of linguistic services are language professionals, which is aligned with the Committee’s recommendation that translators, interpreters and terminologists participate fully in managing the Translation Bureau.
Our government agrees with the Committee's recommendation that all federal public servants be provided with training on the role of the Translation Bureau and, that the essential role that translation and translators play in Canada’s linguistic duality should receive greater recognition. There are ongoing discussions with the Canada School of Public Service to determine how to enhance the messaging about the role of the Translation Bureau. This includes highlighting the importance of translation in the various courses offered to public servants, in particular the course entitled Official Languages for New Public Servants, a public service orientation course offered by the School to all new public servants.
Partnerships and quality: a recipe for success
The government has given serious consideration to the Committee’s recommendation related to studying the impact of privatizing specific translation services.
The Translation Bureau services have been optional for over 20 years, and 80% of translation demand in the public service is still sent to the Translation Bureau. This sign of confidence by the Government of Canada is further demonstrated by the Translation Bureau’s client satisfaction rate of more than 87% in 2015-2016. Still, the Translation Bureau works diligently to maintain and expand its client base.
The level of commitment and satisfaction with the Translation Bureau’s services is due in no small part to a long history of collaboration with Canadian language industries, professional associations and educational institutions. Canada has a strong community of linguistic professionals and service providers. The Translation Bureau is an active member of this community.
Over the last few years, the Translation Bureau has strengthened its partnerships with the private sector by improving its official languages procurement process and by creating fora for regular industry interactions in which issues like quality assurance are raised. Another recent contribution to the Canadian language community includes the prominent role played by the Translation Bureau in the creation and renewal of a national translation standard which establishes the requirements for translation service delivery for suppliers.
The Translation Bureau recognizes that part of delivering any effective and high quality service to Government involves achieving the best possible balance between the use of public and private sector experts. To this end, the Translation Bureau has established, and regularly monitors, strict criteria to guide this balance. For example, certain classified texts are handled internally and in secure facilities. This is also the case for the texts of clients with special requirements. Documents assigned to the private sector are also subject to strict quality assurance measures.
In its report, the Committee recommends that the Government of Canada implement a program to restore lost expertise in the areas of technical, scientific and multilingual translation and to implement a plan to prepare the next generation of language professionals. The Committee recommends that the use of interns from the language field should be part of the Translation Bureau’s mandate.
The Translation Bureau is currently undertaking an external recruitment process in certain technical fields. In addition, through the fora mentioned above, the Translation Bureau is working closely with the private sector to ensure there is an appropriate, and shared, capacity to respond to current and future Government of Canada needs. These efforts include ensuring a robust, and responsive, capacity for translation into non-official languages. Given the highly variable demands in non-official languages, making use of the private sector is generally recognized by governments around the world as being a best practice. The Translation Bureau is currently looking at ways to improve its procurement process for this special niche area.
Our government supports the Committee’s recommendation to implement a plan to ensure that the next generation of translators is well prepared. This year, the Translation Bureau has allocated the necessary financial resources to prepare the next generation by offering summer jobs to about 50 students, including 19 studying translation, and by working with Canadian universities. Furthermore, the Translation Bureau is making sure that the training it offers to its language professionals evolves to adapt to the Government of Canada’s needs and to language industry trends (e.g. post-editing workshops). The Translation Bureau is also very active in training new interpreters: all of the Translation Bureau’s senior interpreters teach in the University of Ottawa’s Master’s Program in Conference Interpretation.
Language technologies: essential tools
The use of technology by language professionals is not a recent development. In 1976, the Translation Bureau already had a team that focused on machine translation. TERMIUM Plus® followed and, later on, translation memories and computer-assisted translation tools. These technologies are used widely by other national and international governments, large corporations and private sector suppliers. The Translation Bureau is a leader in new language technologies, and innovation is ongoing.
Our government is in complete agreement with the recommendations of the Committee concerning Portage, the Language Comprehension Tool and strongly supports innovation and the use of new technologies. It recognizes the Translation Bureau’s efforts to broaden access to these tools to all federal employees. The Translation Bureau feels that the use of these tools must be monitored by language professionals. As recommended by the Committee, instructions have been added to the Tool to make it clear that federal employees may use Portage only in the performance of their duties; that the Tool is to be used only to have a general idea of meaning for texts with government content; and, that the Tool does not replace the services of language professionals. A guide and usage tips have been made available to users. Finally, the Translation Bureau has developed a plan to ensure that the Tool’s content is regularly reviewed by professional translators and each department will continue to ensure that their employees meet their official languages obligations and their obligation to handle information securely.
Lastly, in response to the Committee’s recommendation related to maintaining a high-quality corpus and encouraging communication between the Tool’s designers and translators, Translation Bureau professional translators, in collaboration with the National Research Council Canada (NRC), participate in the quality assurance process to improve the corpus of the Tool. The effectiveness of the Language Comprehension Tool, including user satisfaction, will also be assessed by a third party at the end of the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
The Translation Bureau: More than Words
For more than 80 years, the Translation Bureau has acquired invaluable experience in language service delivery as well as language technologies and contracting language services. Over this period, the Translation Bureau has forged close relationships with various industry stakeholders, international organizations, academic institutions and professional associations representing language professionals.
In June 2015, the Translation Bureau articulated its vision “More than Words.” This vision recognizes the importance of advancing the delivery of services in official languages, but also other priority areas of linguistic services for the Government of Canada. This includes areas such as foreign and Indigenous languages as well as providing enhanced accessibility for persons with disabilities. In this way, the Translation Bureau is making efforts to promote an inclusive Canadian society, a core value of our government. More specifically, the Translation Bureau is offering high-quality visual interpretation services and is exploring the possibility of using voice-to-text technology to enable persons with visual or hearing impairments to follow conversations in real time. The Translation Bureau has endeavoured to help Indigenous communities to promote and preserve their languages and cultures by improving the
Indigenous languages section in the Language Portal of Canada.
The Translation Bureau is a modern and innovative organization that is attentive to its clients and the language needs of Canadians. The Translation Bureau provides exemplary translation, interpretation and terminology services to Parliament, and federal departments and agencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. On an on-going basis the Translation Bureau will explore ways to optimize and enhance its service delivery. This includes the use of existing and emerging language technologies, on an open data platform, and exploiting social media. The Translation Bureau has a bright future. The direction of the organization will enable it to manage costs for the Government of Canada and make service more efficient all the while providing a continuous level of high quality services for many years to come.
As a Special Operating Agency, the Translation Bureau is well positioned within Public Services and Procurement Canada and has the necessary flexibility to adapt to fluctuations in demand, invest in new technologies, continually improve its business model and, ultimately, fulfill the mandate given to it by the Government of Canada.
The Translation Bureau will continue to strengthen its partnerships, particularly with the private sector and universities, and it will focus on certain value‑added tasks, such as quality assurance and post-editing, which are adapted to new client needs and constantly evolving new technologies.
I thank you and the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages for the work that has been done.
Honourable Judy M. Foote, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Public Services and Procurement
c.c.: Christine Holke, Committee Clerk