Mr. Chairman and committee members, thank you for the invitation to appear before you today on the occasion of your committee's hearings, as part of its study on the use of indigenous languages in the proceedings of the House of Commons. As requested by the committee, my submission today will discuss my office's experience in providing language services to the members of our legislative assembly.
First of all, I would like to begin by drawing the committee's attention to the photograph on the cover of the submission that is before you today.
Our legislature's chamber is characterized by a number of distinct features, two of which are prominently featured in this image. These are the elders' seats that are on the floor of the House and the interpreters' booths that are located above the visitor's gallery. Their prominence highlights the importance of culture and language to our institution and its members.
Data from Statistics Canada's 2016 population census indicates that Nunavut's total population is approximately 35,580. Approximately 85% of the territory's population are Inuit and approximately 85% of this number, or 25,755 people, reported being able to converse in the Inuit language.
Our legislature's membership has broadly reflected the demographics of the territory as a whole. The 22 members of the fifth assembly took office last November. Since the institution's first sitting of April 1, 1999, a total of 72 people have held or are presently holding elected office as members of the assembly. Sixty-one of the 72 current or former members are Inuit and 11 are non-Inuit.
Approximately 70% of the total number of current or former members were or are bilingual in both the Inuit language and English. Approximately 20% were or are unilingual English speakers and approximately 10% were or are unilingual speakers of the Inuit language.
All of our legislatures to date have included a mixture of language proficiencies on the part of the members. Consequently, the need to hold proceedings and to provide services to the members in more than one language has been with us since April 1, 1999.
The federal Nunavut Act formally provides for the existence of our legislative assembly. Our territorial Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act is comparable to the Parliament of Canada Act, a statute with which the committee will be very familiar. Since April 1, 1999, the legislative assembly has also passed a new territorial Official Languages Act and a new Inuit Language Protection Act.
When the territory was created on April 1, 1999, we inherited a body of statues from the Northwest Territories, including its Official Languages Act. That jurisdiction's statute recognizes a number of first nations languages that are not widely spoken in Nunavut.
The federal Nunavut Act provided that any significant amendments to the territorial Official Languages Act required the concurrence of Parliament by way of resolution. Nunavut's new Official Languages Act was passed by the territorial legislature in 2008 and the required parliamentary resolutions were subsequently passed in the House of Commons and the Senate in 2009. These were necessitated by the removal of such languages as Dogrib and Slavey from the statute.
Read together, our territorial Official Languages Act and Inuit Language Protection Act define the Inuit language to include Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun. There are a total of 25 municipalities in Nunavut. Inuktitut is the variant of the Inuit language that is predominantly spoken in 23 of these communities. Inuinnaqtun is the variant spoken in the communities of Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay. Inuinnaqtun also differs from Inuktitut in that it is written in Roman orthography rather than in syllabics.
The territorial Official Languages Act guarantees the right of all members of the legislative assembly to use the Inuit language, English, or French during proceedings of the House. I should note that census data indicates that French is the mother tongue of approximately 1.6% of the territory's total population and that we have never had a francophone elected to the legislature. Consequently, the language is not used during proceedings.
The Rules of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut, which are analogous to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, provide for a number of the requirements in relation to the translation of certain official documents, including formal minister's statements, the annual budget address, and motions.
As of today, we've had a total of 705 formal sittings of the house since April 1, 1999. Simultaneous interpretation between the Inuit language and English has been provided on a gavel-to-gavel basis at every single one of our 705 sittings. On average the legislature holds 35 sitting days per calendar year.
I should also note that although the Official Languages Act guarantees the right of all members of the assembly to use the Inuit language, English or French during proceedings of the house, there is actually no statutory requirement for the institution to provide simultaneous interpretation services in any language. As a practical matter, simultaneous interpretation services are required to ensure that all members can understand one another during their proceedings.
Our normal sitting hours are from 1:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and on Friday the normal sitting hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. However, the house frequently sits for extended hours, especially during budget season. For example, during our most recent sitting in March, the house sat past its normal hour of adjournment on eight of 11 sittings.
In addition to the formal sittings of the house, simultaneous interpretation between the Inuit language and English is provided on a gavel-to-gavel basis at all meetings of our full caucus, which consists of all 22 members of the legislative assembly, as well as at all meetings of our regular members' caucus, which consists of members who are not cabinet ministers or the speaker. This body serves as a kind of unofficial opposition in our non-partisan, consensus-style legislature.
Simultaneous interpretation between the Inuit language and English is also provided on a gavel-to-gavel basis at all meetings of standing and special committees, as well as all televised hearings and other assembly events at which the public is permitted to attend or participate, such as our annual investiture ceremony for recipients of the territorial Order of Nunavut. I note, for example, that a total of 15 different sets of televised hearings were held by committees during the most recent assembly on the annual reports of the Auditor General and other items of business.
From time to time, our assembly has hosted national and international events at which relay interpretation has been required. For example, when a ministerial-level meeting of the Arctic Council was held in the chamber a few years ago, relay interpretation was required so that the Inuit language comments of the meeting's chair, who was at that time our territorial member of Parliament, could first be interpreted into English, and then into Russian for the benefit of that jurisdiction's participant. I should also note that when our chamber is used to host meetings of federal, provincial, and territorial ministers organized under the auspices of the Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat, that organization will arrange for French-language interpreters to travel to Iqaluit for the meeting, as there is little to no local capacity to provide this service.
Our legislature's Hansard is one of only a few publications in Canada produced in more than one language. In our case, the daily Hansard is published in both English and Inuktitut. Approximately 41,000 pages of Inuktitut Hansard have been produced since April 1, 1999. Our Hansard production is contracted out to an Inuit-owned company that is located in Iqaluit. Transcripts of televised hearings of standing and special committees are also produced in both Inuktitut and English. For the committee's interest, I have brought two excerpts from such publications with me today.
Our territorial Official Languages Act requires that an Inuktitut version of a bill be made available at the time the bill is introduced. As of today, a total of 419 bills have been introduced in the legislative assembly since April 1, 1999. Responsibility for the translation of government bills falls under the territorial Department of Justice. Responsibility for translating house bills, which falls under the jurisdiction of the legislative assembly itself, falls to my office. Since April 1, 1999, a total of 39 house bills have been introduced and passed by the legislative assembly.
As I noted earlier, the Rules of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut provide for various translation requirements of documents that come before the house. As of today, a total of over 2,519 documents have been formally tabled in the assembly since its first sitting of April 1, 1999. The vast majority of official publications, including statutory required annual reports, are tabled in both English and Inuktitut. Some documents are tabled in four languages.
However, I wish to note that our rules do allow for documents to be immediately tabled when ready in only one language, with the requirement that translations follow. In many cases, it can take months for the translations of lengthy and technical documents to be produced, and we do not believe that it serves a useful purpose to prevent members from having any access at all to documents of interest.
The languages in which our televised proceedings are broadcast rotates on a daily basis. We recently reported to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, CRTC, that 37.5% of our total programming during each broadcast month is in Inuktitut, 37.5% is in English and 25% is in Inuinnaqtun.
It's important to recognize that the financial and human resources required to provide these language services are significant and I anticipate that the committee has taken note of the significantly different scale of operation between our legislature, which is one of the country's smallest, and the Parliament of Canada itself.
Between the start of the 2015-16 fiscal year and today we have spent roughly $3.7 million on language-related services, which includes the cost of producing Hansard and the cost of contracting the services of interpreters and translators.
The single greatest capacity challenge that we face is the very small number of humans being alive today who are able to provide quality Inuit language interpretation and translation services. We engage a core group of approximately 10 extremely hard-working and talented Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun interpreter-translators to provide sessional and intersessional language services. However, we are in competition with other entities such as the court system, other levels of government, and the private sector to engage such professionals.
This capacity challenge is not one that can be resolved by simply spending more money. As I'm sure the committee recognizes from the excellent interpretation and translation services that are provided to Parliament in the English and French languages, the skills required to be a proficient interpreter-translator are not ones that can be developed overnight or by taking a three-day course. The challenge for us is further compounded by the significantly greater linguistic differences that exist between English and the Inuit language than those that exist between English and French. There are also significant dialectical differences between the variants of the Inuit languages that are spoken in different regions and communities.
As the committee would note from the Hansard excerpt that I distributed, we have been working with such partners as the Nunavut Arctic College to build local capacity in this profession, but it is important to recognize that this is a long-term process.
I wish to conclude by again thanking the committee for its invitation to appear before you today. I hope the information I have provided will be of use to you in your deliberations, and I welcome comments and questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.