Good afternoon, everyone.
I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 14 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, April 11, the committee is meeting to discuss parliamentary duties in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before we start I want to inform members that pursuant to the order of reference, the committee is meeting for two reasons: first, for the purpose of undertaking a study and receiving evidence concerning matters related to the conduct of parliamentary duties in the context of COVID-19; and second, to prepare and present a report to the House of Commons by May 15 on that said study. The order of reference also stipulates that only motions needed to determine witnesses and motions related to the adoption of the report are in order.
Today's meeting is taking place by video conference and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. So that you are aware, the webcast always shows the person speaking, rather than the entirety of the committee.
In order to facilitate the work of our interpreters and ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules for you to follow.
Interpretation in this video conference will work very much like in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either “floor”, “English” or “French”. Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak you can either click on the microphone icon to activate your mike, or you can hold down the space bar while you are speaking. When you release the bar, your mike will mute itself, just like a walkie-talkie.
This is a reminder that all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair. Should members need to request the floor outside of their designated time for speaking or questions, they should activate their mike and state that they have a point of order. If a member wishes to intervene on a point of order that has been raised by another member, they should use the “raise hand” function. This will signal to the chair your interest to speak. In order to do so, you should click on “participants” at the bottom of your screen, and when the list pops up you'll see the “raise hand” function. Please click that.
When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, make sure your mike is on mute.
The use of headsets is strongly encouraged and I believe today we may have everyone with headsets, so thank you for ordering your headsets and having them. It's definitely going to facilitate this meeting much better.
Should any technical challenges arise, for example, in relation to interpretation or problems with your audio, please advise the chair immediately, and the technical team will work to resolve them. Please note that we may need to suspend during these times as we want to ensure that all members get to participate fully.
Before we get started, could everyone click on their screen in the top right-hand corner and ensure that they are on gallery view? With this view you should be able to see all other participants in a grid view and it will ensure that all video participants can see one another.
During this meeting we will follow the same rules that usually apply to opening statements and the questioning of witnesses during our regular meetings. Per the routine motions of the committee, each witness has up to 10 minutes for an opening statement, followed by the usual rounds of questions from members. Just as we usually would in a regular committee meeting, we will suspend in between panels in order for the first group of witnesses to depart and for the next panel to join the meeting.
I'd like to welcome to this meeting, on the first panel, the Canadian Association of Professional Employees and the International Association of Conference Interpreters. First, we will hear from the Association of Professional Employees. From there, we have Mr. Greg Phillips, president; Katia Thériault, director of communications; and Nicolas Bois, the president of Local 900. I believe, on their behalf, we will have Mr. Greg Phillips speak. From the Association of Conference Interpreters, we have Nicole Gagnon and Mr. Jim Thompson. They'll be up next after Mr. Greg Phillips.
Mr. Phillips, you have 10 minutes to make your opening statement.
Good afternoon, Madam Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting me to testify today about the strain and injuries that government interpreters have been sustaining during virtual parliamentary meetings, and how it's hurting their ability to effectively champion our two official languages.
My name is Greg Phillips. I am the national president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, also known as CAPE. Joining me today are a colleague and two CAPE representatives: Katia Thériault, director of communications; Nicolas Bois, president of CAPE Local 900 and translator at the Translation Bureau; and Bastien Tremblay-Cousineau, a parliamentary interpreter and also an occupational safety and health representative.
I would like to greet the interpreters responsible for this meeting's interpretation services. Language professionals play an essential role in the application of the Official Languages Act, and I want to thank them for the important work they do in promoting our nation's linguistic duality. I also want to thank them for their exceptional work since the COVID-19 crisis. The government has been in constant communications with Canadians about the pandemic, always relying on our language professionals to convey their updates in both official languages. Our interpreters have not missed a beat.
CAPE is the third-largest labour union representing federal public service employees. We represent nearly 18,000 economists, policy analysts, statisticians and researchers in the Library of Parliament, and analysts in the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Of most relevance today, we represent all 70 professional interpreters in the federal public service. We negotiate their collective agreements, and we defend their right to a safe and healthy workplace. We also take a stand when needed to fix their enduring labour-related problems.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a lot of changes in the way the federal government operates. One of the most obvious changes is the steep increase in virtual sittings of committees and Parliament. Virtual parliamentary hearings and sessions are not new to the government per se. Interpreters know how to operate in this environment and can deliver exceptional interpretation services when the interpretation standards and conditions are respected. However, teleconferencing and video conferencing have been known for some time to be challenging for our interpreters.
Well before COVID-19, we had raised the problem with the Translation Bureau, with whom we enjoy a good relationship. Indeed, occasional technical glitches or poor compliance with interpretation standards and conditions have in the past prevented our interpreters from performing their duties to the best of their ability. They have also caused injuries, including very serious cases of acoustic shock.
The current situation has created some urgency that has prompted an acceleration of our pursuit for remediation. CAPE is here to confirm the dramatic and exponential increase in injuries reported to us over a very short period of time. We can confirm that these incidents have been exacerbated by the exponential increase in the number of virtual meetings since the beginning of the confinement period. In fact, there have been more incidents reported between March 31 and May 1 of this year than for all of 2019 or, said differently, more than half of the injuries reported since the beginning of last year, 2019, to today have taken place in the last three weeks alone. Although not all incidents involve a serious injury or a visit to the doctor, the type and severity of symptoms felt by interpreters are very worrisome. This is not a normal situation.
CAPE’s labour relations officers, stewards and government occupational health and safety representatives at Public Services and Procurement Canada, PSPC, can confirm the unusual increase in injuries reported by interpreters and the uncharacteristic nature of the trend since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. The people on whom you depend need urgent action on this matter.
There is more to the situation. Interpreters are generally used to working multiple parliamentary assignments in one day, many days in a row. As the Translation Bureau told your committee last week, the typical day for a parliamentary interpreter consists of six hours of interpretation. Virtual meetings are handled differently because the cognitive load is much heavier, which leads to more strain and more injuries. This means shorter assignments, shorter shifts and more interpreters going on sick leave for days or being permanently redeployed to other non-virtual assignments at their request.
As a result, the pool of the available interpreters to pick from is shrinking.
We are getting close to our worst-case scenario, which is that too many interpreters end up needing rest and healing at the same time. We fear that interpreters are getting dangerously close to being unable to keep up with the demand and having to refuse assignments in too great numbers to find replacements. This would jeopardize the conduct of parliamentary activities. Nobody wants to get to the point where we no longer have enough available qualified interpreters to support parliamentary work. This would be a great disservice to all parliamentarians and to all Canadians.
Last week the Translation Bureau presented you with a general list of the types of physical injuries the interpreters have been sustaining during these virtual meetings. We can confirm that the injuries reported are impairing our members' hearing and concentration, which are the instruments they critically need to hold their jobs and do this profession.
If you recall, the main symptoms of those injuries include tinnitus, a residual and long-last beating sound, pounding and sharp bursts in the eardrum, headaches, nausea, sleeplessness, mental fog and an inability to concentrate. This is why longer breaks are needed and why interpreters go on sick leave.
CAPE is also here to confirm the causes behind those injuries and the extreme exhaustion, and the fact that with everyone's support they can be eliminated or mitigated. Those causes include poor audio and video quality because of bandwidth or connectivity issues, for example, using a Wi-Fi connection instead of a cable Internet connection, or not using a headset or microphone; the disruption of usual lines of communication and logistical channels, which makes it more difficult for interpreters to receive and manage documents and speaking notes; and more generally, a video conferencing system that does not meet international standards.
There are solutions readily available to solve this problem, and we implore you to consider adopting the following corrective measures.
Clearly communicate to clerks, MPs and witnesses the best practices for video conferencing and the material required for successful participation in a parliamentary video conferencing meeting. Make sure committee chairs are aware of the standards so that they can hold participants to them. Understand that simultaneous interpretation might not be possible in some circumstances and that other methods of interpretation, such as consecutive interpretation, might be necessary if conditions cannot be improved. Briefly go over the standards before each meeting. Make sure the video conferencing solutions used for parliamentary meetings are in compliance with ISO standards on remote interpreting. Ensure that everyone communicates with interpreters respectfully.
Madam Chair and members of the committee, in my closing argument, I want to reiterate the fact that interpreters are your main allies, albeit often invisible. They are an integral part of your parliamentary sessions. They ensure that the message you convey to your constituents and other Canadians is communicated in both official languages, accurately and in real time. Good sound is what interpreters rely on to do their work. When the working conditions lead to a deterioration of sound quality, the interpreters can't ensure as faithful, nuanced and complete a transmission of the meaning in the other language.
Without interpreters, non-bilingual MPs would not be able to fully participate in parliamentary meetings, and Canadians would not be able to follow our parliamentary proceedings in real time in the official language of their choice. It is my fervent hope that this committee will review how the virtual committee proceedings are conducted to ensure remediation.
Thank you to the interpreters on this assignment today and for doing your very best under very challenging conditions.
Thank you also to the committee members. We look forward to answering your questions.
Thank you for the invitation, ladies and gentlemen.
If you recognize my voice, but you cannot place who I am, it's because you are accustomed to hearing me, not seeing me, when I am in the interpreting booth at your service.
The International Association of Conference Interpreters of Canada, or simply AIIC Canada, is the only national association representing conference interpreters in the country, both freelancers and Translation Bureau staff professionals. Our members are free to choose whether or not to join our association.
Let me first introduce my colleague, Jim Thompson, and to thank my colleagues in the booth today for their good services.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are a bilingual nation. Together, the two founding peoples along with our indigenous hosts have built our great country by sheer hard work. That was not always easy. But we persevered and succeeded against all odds. Our desire to be a bilingual country is written into the Official Languages Act and enshrined in the Constitution. Clearly...
So, as I was saying, our desire to be a bilingual country is written into the Official Languages Act and enshrined in the Constitution, which clearly obliges the federal government to provide access of equal quality to its proceedings in the country's two official languages. Neither the quality of the communication, nor the access to that communication in either official language can be overlooked in times of crisis.
We know from experience that our foundational partnership cannot be taken for granted. That is why AIIC Canada's number one issue is the quality of interpretation in both Houses of Parliament, the highest institutions of our democracy.
As you well know, many are concerned that the French language may be taking second place during the pandemic. Provincial premiers are being called out for failing to communicate with their French-speaking residents in their mother tongue. What can we say when the himself has stated that English-only labels and signage are acceptable in certain circumstances?
Independent senator René Cormier recently said, “nothing justifies the lack of respect for our two official languages.” We concur and submit that when it comes to access to the proceedings of the federal government, and in particular Parliament, nothing must compromise quality. In the rush to get a virtual Parliament, committees included, up and running, compromises had to be made, compromises that undermine the quality of interpretation during your proceedings.
The first compromise relates to technology. Witnesses from the Translation Bureau have stated that quality has not been compromised by technology during the past six weeks. They advised your committee last week that the bureau encourages interpreters to interrupt service when they cannot hear and, therefore, quality is not being undermined.
This blanket statement does not reflect what is really happening. Let me explain.
We endeavour to provide you with the seamless service you are used to. Even if encouraged, most interpreters are reluctant to interrupt service every time they are faced with bad sound quality. Instead, we will edit out some of what is being said because we haven't heard it properly. Some of the original message is lost; in many cases, more than what interpreters deem acceptable. We are trained to provide accurate and faithful interpretation of the speaker's words with all the nuances. After all, no parliamentarian wants to be misquoted. This is one of the ways in which quality is being compromised.
It is disrespectful to the institution of Parliament to show up in the chamber wearing jeans and a T-shirt. There are rules that prevent this. It is equally disrespectful to Canada's linguistic duality to show up for virtual assemblies without the equipment needed to be heard properly. There should be rules preventing this too. Everyone participating in a virtual committee meeting or other virtual assembly must wear a headset with a built-in microphone and they must be connected to the Internet by a hard Ethernet wire—not Wi-Fi . We ask your committee to recommend that this become a mandatory requirement for all virtual events.
The second compromise has to do with bidirectionality. Like you, interpreters have a mother tongue. They usually work from their second language into their mother tongue. For example, an English-speaking MP will be interpreted into French by a francophone interpreter. Interpreters are capable of interpreting into their second language. This is known as bidirectional interpreting, but most interpreters who work into their second language offer a service of lesser quality because of accent, syntax and vocabulary, for example. For this reason, AICC-Canada strongly advises against this practice when interpreters are working in Parliament for broadcast, unless they have been deemed qualified to do so.
By its own admission, the Translation Bureau has no shortage of accredited interpreters, so interpretation into a second language is not necessary. Parliament is sacrosanct and should receive only top-notch interpretation services.
The third compromise concerns fatigue and injury.
“Zoom fatigue” is magnified for interpreters because we are working with new technologies that are not yet perfected for remote interpretation. Thus, in addition to the normal challenges faced by interpreters, they are not getting sound that is adequate for good results, they are lacking the usual visual cues—and we know that body language represents 70% of communication—and they are presently working in the booth alone, no longer in teams, because of physical distancing.
We therefore have to strain and concentrate more, to the extent that we are suffering injuries such as serious headaches and earaches, tinnitus, hyperacusis and excessive fatigue.
We do not know when this pandemic will end, but we want to be in it for the long haul and to make it through this crisis with you. We therefore ask that you be mindful of the health and safety of accredited interpreters, because remote interpreting is so much more taxing in the current context.
The critical resource that we represent must be protected and carefully managed during this time of crisis. In all cases, quality must be paramount.
Lastly, I wish to bring to your attention the force that has been eroding the quality of interpretation of federal proceedings for years. It may come as news, but it is the policy of the federal government to allow a double standard of quality to exist in the interpretation of its proceedings. We held out hope that this would change when, in early 2017, the then minister Judy Foote called on the President of the Treasury Board to fix this problem. Three years later, nothing has been done.
On the one hand, there is a high standard of quality that is delivered by federally accredited interpreters. The Canadian federal accreditation is recognized worldwide as the gold standard of quality. The Translation Bureau hires and contracts only those who hold this credential. Parliament is served by the Translation Bureau in keeping with this high standard, but every other government department and agency, including the PMO and ministers' offices, can and do hire unqualified interpreters through private language service companies. Therein lies the double standard. Due to the pandemic, this practice has become increasingly widespread because of growing demand for interpretation agreements and the events held over phone lines.
Last year, the Translation Bureau stopped offering over-the-phone interpretation, because typical audio levels are so dismal that quality interpretation is near impossible. Moreover, in the case of hybrid meetings, where you have people meeting in person and others joining in over the phone, interpreters risk sustaining the most serious of injuries: acoustic shock. If the federal government truly values our linguistic duality, it will end this double standard forthwith.
As you know, the association is committed to making virtual meetings of Parliament work. With this in mind, I draw your attention to a summary of recommendations that we urge your committee to adopt.
With thanks, honourable members, we conclude our presentation. Jim Thompson and I will both be pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thanks to all the witnesses today for their statements. We really appreciate it.
I want to say first off that I think you are quite right that the work many of our interpreters do is often in the background. I just want to say how much you are valued. You are really an integral part of the functioning of Parliament. I want to acknowledge that and really thank you for the quality of interpretation you've provided despite circumstances that have obviously been quite challenging. Our country has a dual linguistic nature and history, and it is really important to all of us to preserve that.
I just wanted to start with that thank you for and acknowledgement of your hard work, and our appreciation of the quality of interpretation and how you're protecting that.
That said, I never would have thought that all of the situational improvements being made to Parliament's ability to operate would cause injury to interpreters. When I learned of this, I was deeply concerned. I want to ask for some clarification on some of the injuries that have resulted and on how quickly people can recover from them. Eventually I will ask you another question, but in particular, how many people are getting tinnitus, for example? That seems like a pretty severe injury. Of the number of interpreters, how many were afflicted with tinnitus?
Greg, why don't we start with you?
Thank you very much for that question. I would be happy to answer it to the best of my ability.
Acoustic shock presents symptoms like a concussion where you have headaches, nausea, difficulty with this fog we're talking about. I'm sure you know that concussions are cumulative in impact over time. As you sustain one after the other, it takes a lot longer to recover.
As to the statistics, I believe that CAPE is best placed to speak to that because the staff interpreters are providing incident reports to the Translation Bureau. The International Association of Conference Interpreters in Canada does not compile such statistics, but we are getting feedback from the membership to that effect—tinnitus, hypersensitivity to loud noises and that kind of thing.
You had a second question as to hybrid meetings. Yes, they are the most serious of the issues because when you're meeting in person—we are all familiar with that experience—what happens is that, on top of that, you have people joining the call over the phone lines, so you are dealing with different technologies. You have the equipment that has been put in place for the in-person meeting; you have, on top of that, a layer of equipment that is being provided for the interpretation; and then finally, you have the telephone equipment on top of all of that, to put it in simple terms.
All of this is not necessarily compatible. When people are joining by phone, they can be joining on a land line, but there aren't too many of those left. Most of them are on cell phones. Some are in their cars driving with a hands-free system. It's a matter of the inputs. The inputs are various, and because of this, the quality of the sound is degraded and makes our work all the more difficult. That is when you can have a feedback loop that causes acoustic shock.
I can certainly try to answer your question, Ms. Normandin.
The Translation Bureau and the professional association are not responsible for any technical matters. We provide you with interpreters. Administration staff take care of the technical side of things.
What you are describing is indeed a problem. For example, today, every time I want to speak, I have to switch the console myself to speak to you in French, as is the case now, or in English, as you may have noticed during my speech. This adds to my workload as such.
For those members who would like to listen to the source language and the interpretation, it is true that the platform cannot do that. I would advise you not to use a telephone because you may have compatibility issues with the console. If the headset is too close to the telephone, that could also cause problems.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here.
I think it's good that we have this follow-up today following some of the management team speaking last week. I don't begrudge anybody...and I know everybody is trying, but it's good to get into the weeds of some of these challenges that we have in the short term and frankly ones that have existed not just here with COVID, but that I think have been highlighted by it and expanded by it in the last little while.
I'll agree with the point Madam Normandin from the Bloc made about us not being at 100% capacity even right now. I know we're having some committees meet. We're meeting virtually a few days a week. One thing I see a challenge with behind the scenes is our caucus advisory committees. Outside of our regular caucus meetings, we discuss specific portfolios. Not having the translation there is certainly a challenge for members and staff who are working as impromptu translators as well as they can, where they can.
I want to build a bit on the numbers again to clarify where we're at in terms of the issue here with staffing levels. As we mentioned, there would normally be 70 interpreters. We're down to 40 right now given the circumstances, but there are 30 freelancers who have come on.
Mr. Phillips, is the challenge there that there's hesitation to have additional staffing come in or is it an accreditation issue? Can you give us some of that background again to make sure we get it right?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you all very much.
Madam Chair and committee members, thank you for your invitation to reappear today as you continue your study of parliamentary duties and the COVID-19 pandemic.
As I explained in my previous statement to the committee, your challenge is to consider and recommend how the House and its members can perform their roles of advancing legislation and holding the government to account while observing the necessary health precautions during the current pandemic.
I have been following your committee's proceedings with interest over the past two weeks as you have heard presentations and posed questions to witnesses who have provided important evidence.
Today I would like to offer some suggestions on how the House of Commons could adjust these practices in light of the two operating functions: one, as a deliberative assembly engaged in debate; and two, as a decision-making assembly on legislation, resolutions and orders.
Through the first meeting of the special committee on COVID-19 on April 28, most members have now participated in virtual deliberations. A virtual meeting is undeniably different from our usual in-person proceedings, but as we continue to adjust to using new technologies, we have seen it is possible to gather, debate and deliberate in virtual meetings.
As chair of the committee I was impressed by this experience, both from the technological standpoint and the quality of the exchange. I took some notes that I want to share with the committee. They may provide some ideas for your consideration as you prepare your report.
One issue that I think must be addressed has to be with the visual background in front of which members appear. Based on established practice, these backgrounds should be as neutral as possible, and consistent with the non-partisan environment of the chamber or committee. I have written to the chair of this committee expressing my concerns on this topic.
Absent a decision of the House to the contrary, I will be advising members to refrain from including any background that is not consistent with the norms and standards followed within the parliamentary precinct.
I also noted that many of the House's practices surrounding its deliberations can readily accommodate virtual participation. For example, the Chair is aided in recognizing members in debates by the rotation lists established by all the parties. This already brings a degree of predictability to the proceedings, something that is equally helpful to members and the Chair participating through a virtual setting.
Other proceedings, such as question period, where fixed interventions are relatively brief, might need some adjustment. In a virtual sitting, time must be managed differently, and the exchanges between members asking and answering questions will not be the same as in an in-person sitting. These aspects of question period—the length of interventions and the unpredictability surrounding who will respond—are, however, matters of adjustment among the parties or matters of practice, and could be adjusted to provide more time for questions and answers without requiring formal changes to the House's rules.
Many of the House's more routine practices could also be adapted to accommodate virtual participation in a straightforward manner and without changes to the rules. For example, the provisions that allow members to present petitions in the special committee on COVID-19 specifically ensure that such petitions are deemed presented in the House. In a virtual sitting of the House, no change to the rules would be necessary for members who are participating virtually to present petitions. Members would simply continue to submit the petition certificates electronically.
In short, as this committee decides what types of business it would like to see in the House debates and how—whether virtual or some hybrid of in-person and virtual—the procedural experts in the House administration will provide the committee with a more detailed proposal on how to accomplish this. In fact, the House administration has already begun work on how to support such an outcome, following the guiding principles I shared with the committee during my previous appearance.
On April 5, I received a letter from the government House leader asking about the ability of the administration to support and facilitate virtual sittings of the House during these unprecedented times. In my response on April 8, I stated that I had mandated digital services and real property, in collaboration with procedural services, to prepare for the possibility of holding virtual sittings within four weeks.
Similar to the approach to virtual participation of a number of international legislatures, including the United Kingdom's, the administration has begun testing with simulations of a hybrid model and will soon be ready to go beyond what has already been achieved with the virtual meetings of the special committee. This hybrid model would allow the deliberative aspects of the proceedings to continue throughout the pandemic with options for all members to participate. In this model, minimum changes to the House's rules would be required to allow its deliberations to continue, all while incorporating members' virtual participation.
As to the second operating function of the House, its decision-making authority, the challenge is greater. The standing orders that define this function are closely connected to the physical presence of members in the House itself. A more extensive review is required of the procedural mechanisms involved.
I was informed that the House administration is ready to provide detailed advice and options once it has received some direction from the committee as to what kind of approach it would like to consider. The technology is available and the rules can be adapted, and while the time to do this is tight, it can be done so as to leverage the capabilities of virtual sittings during the period of this pandemic.
Once this committee has determined the types of deliberations it would recommend to the House that the House undertake during the current crisis, and how much virtual participation it would like to see in those deliberations, we can begin implementing as quickly as possible. Whatever the deliberations, they will involve the participation of all members, all the while respecting physical distancing and travel guidelines.
Similarly, once the committee has decided on how it would see the House exercise its decision-making function during this time, we will develop specific options for consideration. This would be in line with the incremental approach that I strongly recommended in my initial appearance.
With that, the Clerk and I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.
Thank you so much, Speaker Rota. It's a pleasure to have you and your whole team back again. I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, but I thank you for your patience.
I believe this is going to be a great opportunity for us to be able to learn about some of the challenges you have and to verify some of the testimony we've heard from other witnesses before this committee. I'm really glad you were able to make it in today, as opposed to Thursday. I know that you haven't had a lot of opportunity to test out the COVID-19 committee, but hopefully you'll still be able to do your best job to answer the questions we have.
Just so everybody knows, we do have with us the Clerk of the House, as mentioned by the Speaker, and the deputy clerk as well. We also have with us the clerk's assistant and the law clerk, and I believe we also have somebody from the digital services team.
Starting off, we will have Mr. Brassard, please, for six minutes.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, Mr. Speaker, for coming back today as we conclude our sessions on virtual sittings.
Let me begin by saying that I can't overstate how difficult this task is, given the volumes of information that we've received from our various witnesses. It will be difficult to come up with even some incremental report on these virtual sittings, given the fact that we've had only roughly five sessions to do this.
I appreciate that, and I also appreciate your advice, Mr. Speaker. As you can tell by the backdrop, I've tried to keep it as neutral as I can, other than my old fire helmet and a picture of José Bautista's bat flip.
One of the first witnesses we had was Dr. Raymond, an executive medical adviser in the infectious disease prevention control branch for the Public Health Agency of Canada. She's also a specialist in epidemiological diseases. At that time, there had been three sessions of in-person Parliament and the daily briefings that are being held by the and by the ministers in West Block. I asked her whether she thought we were in full compliance with public health guidelines as they relate to physical distancing and other measures.
Mr. Speaker, my question is for you and Mr. Robert. Given the experiences of limited Parliament, do you feel that we have been complying to physical distancing and other measures to the satisfaction of the Public Health Agency of Canada?
Thank you, Speaker Rota.
I want to interject, if I may, for a moment. I'm not giving my preference on any of these recommendations, but I want to state again that the study does include all ways that members can fulfill their parliamentary duties while the House stands adjourned over public health concerns caused by COVID-19. Voting could be considered a member's parliamentary duty, so I don't think it's necessarily precluded.
In the order of reference that was given on April 11, the House did propose that the committee include the following elements in its study: first, temporary modifications of certain procedures; second, sitting in alternate locations; and third, technological solutions, including a virtual parliament. We're looking at all ways that members can complete their duties.
I just wanted to put that out there so we have a frame of reference again, as we're on our last meeting of witnesses, and so we can elicit the testimony we wish in order to go over the draft report and our recommendations and of course any dissenting or supplementary opinions.
Next up on the speakers list is Madam Normandin, please.
It's definitely something that is being looked at by our technical staff, and there are examples of technology that exists out there. It's just a matter of taking it and modifying it so that it works in Canada with, as I said, our vast geography and our time zones as well.
We do have five time zones. I don't envy MPs who come from B.C. I envy their weather in the middle of the winter, but other than that, having to travel to Ottawa and to have that time difference makes it difficult. As soon as you have a vote that might be at a certain time, it really doesn't make sense in B.C. versus Newfoundland, and that's something to consider as well. It's something that we have to look at.
One of the other things that we have to look at, as I mentioned, is that the rules were mainly created in 1867. We talked about Parliament, and that was basically an assembly of people. That's what we were looking at, bringing people together in one place, but what was the intent? Was it to have them physically there or have their minds there? That's something we have to examine and determine. Is a physical presence necessary in order to vote and in order to speak, or is the person being there in spirit, through virtual connection, really good enough for what we are trying to accomplish? That's something we have to come to an agreement on. Right now, it is a physical presence in the chamber.
I will walk you through the process we took to select Zoom for this purpose.
As I just said, our first step was to evaluate our existing tools to make sure they did or did not meet the multiple requirements we have for committees. We quickly found out that the platforms we have right now could not meet some of the mandatory requirements to hold virtual meetings, such as built-in integration for simultaneous interpretation—your previous witnesses talked about that—as well as the ability to enable 338 people in a meeting if required, and also the ability to control the broadcast output in order for us to distribute to Canadians. Some of our existing tools didn't have these capabilities; hence, we needed to look at other products.
Beyond that, we did extensive market research, and we liaised with international and national security partners. We consulted over 30 parliaments, sir. We consulted leading research institutions and security partners. We also collaborated with existing parliaments using that platform.
Hence, in order to meet these requirements, we brought different tools into our lab and assessed them. One of the tools we brought in was Zoom. We discovered that Zoom met all of our requirements. It was easy to use in the context of what we needed to do. It supported all of the devices we offer to members, and it is as secure as the other solutions that we have in our environment right now, sir, to hold meetings that are open to the public.
Well, we had 13 altogether. Eight of them were the choice of the channel. What we've done is we've made some modifications. If you notice now, if you want to speak English, you're on the English channel. If you want to speak French, you're on the French channel. When I was giving my speech, there was a little bit of a pause in between, but it seems to have worked.
There was a third channel where it was the floor. It would recognize whether it was French or English, and the interpretation, it has something to do with the software. It's the program itself. It's something they're working on. We may come to that with time. Those were eight of the issues.
What seemed to happen was that about 70% of people were working fine on the floor level, but for 30% there would be some interference, where they would be speaking English, and there was either English translation or French translation. It really was bothering, I'd say, about 30% of the people involved.
Another five were about sound. Again, I encourage everyone to use the headset, like I have. I notice some of you are using your own. Some of you aren't using any at all—one of you, I guess. I'll leave it at that. I won't name any names. I would encourage you to get hold of your IT ambassador and see about getting one with a boom. It actually makes a difference when things are being said.
Again, with the people who were in earlier, the interpreters who were in earlier, it's not only for the MPs' health; it's for theirs as well.
One person had an echo on their channel and there were some video problems, but overall everything worked fairly well.
To the Speaker, just parenthetically, because it's come up so often, it was interesting to hear that in the U.K., for security reasons their cabinet is meeting by Microsoft Teams, and we haven't talked about that very much yet, but their Parliament is basically meeting by Zoom.
Mr. Speaker, we've heard from Scotland, Wales and the U.K., and what struck me was that the current method of voting there is much freer than what our rules require, and this has nothing to do with the pandemic. I think our rules are the most archaic in the Commonwealth. They require standing at your desk and being there at the moment of voting until the vote is counted. There's electronic voting at your desk in Scotland and Wales, while British members of Parliament walk through outer lobbies to register a vote outside of the House.
I'm wondering if any of those methods of voting in other parliaments suggest to you a direction we might go, leaving aside the question of how we approve it in a pandemic.
Mr. Duncan, did you have a point you'd like to address?
Mr. Duncan, go ahead.
Mr. Duncan is gone. Maybe he was waving goodbye rather than waving to get in a point of order. Hopefully we can get Mr. Duncan back on. Maybe one of the other Conservative members could message him and let him know that his input would be needed to move forward. It's okay if you guys are good to speak on his behalf.
Next, I want to find out if you had a chance to look at the table of contents that was provided by Andre.
Andre, do you want to walk us through a little bit of this? Before we go through it, I'd like to let you know that we have a full meeting on Thursday to look at the draft report. By Friday, by the end of this week, it would be ideal if we could get the recommendations from each of the parties. I know that's a very tight time frame and it doesn't give you a lot of time to look at the draft report, but maybe Andre could walk us through some of the steps of what would help him in order to be able to produce the draft for us by next week.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I don't have a lot to say. Hopefully, the table of contents made sense to everyone. Really the only thing I would add is that about 26 pages of testimony have been sent to the translators, but it's just testimony. It's trying to capture what the committee heard.
If the committee wanted to make recommendations, you could look at the table of contents and try to slot in where your recommendations could go. They can go anywhere in the report—at the beginning, the end, the middle, or wherever you feel they would fit.
It's kind of difficult to describe in the abstract what is in the report without actually giving you a copy of the it, but hopefully you can look at the table of contents and get a sense of the structure of it, the direction of it, and what would be in the report at present. Not to continue to ramble, but if you would like to see something in the report that isn't in it now, it's your report and I'd be more than happy to add it, if that helps as a starting point.