I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 14x of the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
The committee is meeting on its study of Challenges of the Parliamentary Interpretation Service in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow.
For those participating virtually, I would like to take this opportunity to remind all participants in this meeting that screenshots or taking photos of your screen is not permitted, and also highlight the fact that this was mentioned by Speaker Rota on September 29, 2020.
Members and witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of “Floor”, “English” or “French”. Before speaking, click on the microphone icon to activate your own mike. When you are done speaking, please put your mike on mute to minimize any interference.
I remind everyone that all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the use of headsets with a boom microphone is mandatory for everyone participating remotely. Should any technical challenges arise, please advise the chair or the clerk. Please note that we may need to suspend for a few minutes as we need to ensure that all members are able to participate fully.
For those attending the meeting in person, masks are required unless seated and when physical distancing is not possible. Should you wish to get my attention, signal the clerk with a hand gesture, or click on the icon to request the floor. Should you wish to raise a point of order, please activate your microphone, and indicate to me clearly that you wish to raise a point of order.
I would now like to welcome our witnesses who will begin our discussions with seven and a half minutes of opening remarks, followed by rounds of questions. As is our customary process, I will let you know when you have approximately one minute left. I will also inform you that your time is up when you have about 10 seconds left.
Today we have representatives of the International Association of Conference Interpreters: Nicole Gagnon, who is its Advocacy Lead, and Jim Thompson, its Communications Counsel for the regions of Canada.
I now turn the floor over to the witnesses from the International Association of Interpreters. You have seven and a half minutes. I know that most of the witnesses have forwarded notes, but I have also seen the number of pages you have submitted to us. Those documents were sent to the members of committees so they could read them. We will devote some time to those documents during the question period.
Ms. Gagnon or Mr. Thompson, you may begin your opening remarks.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, we are here this evening to discuss your right to speak in Parliament in the language of your choice, and to be heard by Canadians in the language of your choice, delivered with equal quality.
Like you, the Association we represent sees these fundamental rights as duties that cannot be compromised. Sadly, we think our founding linguistic partnership is not being respected during the pandemic as it should be.
In fact, we are at a crisis point. Since Parliament began meeting virtually in April last year, a wave of injuries has swept through the team of interpreters employed directly by the Translation Bureau. Seventy percent of those staff interpreters who responded to a survey we conducted have suffered auditory injuries during the past nine months. Injuries were so severe many had to take time off work. Of those injured, most, 62%, have not fully recovered. Public Services and Procurement Canada, or PSPC, is reported to have said that health and safety incident reports are down and no one is presently on sick leave.
Such statements hide the fact that, in the past nine months, there have been more than double the number of health and safety incident reports filed by staff interpreters compared to the previous 15 months, according to the Translation Bureau's own data. They ignore the fact that many TB staffers have given up filing complaints because little if any action comes of it. Staffers are disappointed. These statements belittle their injuries and silence their concerns. This is unacceptable. As the recently said, "Every employee in the Government of Canada has the right to work in a safe and healthy environment, and we will always take this very seriously."
As the ranks of Translation Bureau staffers thin, qualified freelancers are being recruited as reinforcements. Normally, freelancers are assigned to about 30% of parliamentary events, committees and the like, while staffers cover 70%. Recently, freelancers are doing a much bigger share of work on the Hill, amounting to almost half the workload in November and December.
Against this backdrop, PSPC and the Translation Bureau are weeks away from locking in contractual requirements that could expose freelancers to more of what is making staffers sick while undermining the quality of the services we can provide to Canadians. When you hear the word "contract", a collective agreement negotiation between a union and an employer may come to mind. That is not the case here. The Association is not a union and we are not negotiating anything with the PSPC and the Translation Bureau. As far as the contract is concerned, they decide what will be in it. It's a one-way street.
The Translation Bureau has floated some contractual trial balloons that are of great concern because, among other things, the TB would like to increase the hours freelancers are exposed to conditions that are making staffers sick. Of course, this is unsustainable. There is already a critical shortage of interpreters qualified to work on the Hill.
We have highly specialized training that is not common in Canada. There are only about 80 freelancers in the entire country who can do it. The Translation Bureau's approach will burn out the freelancers just as it is doing to the staffers. Then what?
The Translation Bureau has also resorted to using teams of two interpreters more often, even when the assignments are broadcast or webcast. Team strength is critical because when teams are small you increase the load each interpreter must carry. And, because we take turns at the mic, inevitably it means we will be working into our second language. Assigning interpreters so, they must work into their second language is generally regarded as one that reduces quality and, as a result, has rarely been permitted for meetings that are televised or webcast to Canadians, until now.
I have met on numerous occasions with Lucie Séguin, the CEO of the Translation Bureau. I know her to be a person of high integrity who cares deeply about the job her team is able to do with available resources. At the same time, if these trial balloons and recent practices are baked into the next freelancers' contract, it's not difficult to imagine how quality will suffer.
You will have interpreters sick with hearing injuries, working longer hours or in smaller teams, sometimes into their second language, which at least some of the time will be broadcast or televised.
The House of Commons administration may have had good reasons to select Zoom as the online platform where Parliament meets, but its suitability for delivering quality interpretation could not have been one of them. Actually, Zoom is not even recognized as an interpretation platform by the international experts who set ISO Standards. Interpreters call the sound delivered to them by Zoom and other platforms "toxic". It makes them sick with headaches, extreme exhaustion, tinnitus, nausea and other symptoms. In tests conducted by independent sound engineers comparing platforms, Zoom Standard Mode comes last.
The survey of staffers we conducted has revealed what all interpreters know: under the current conditions of distance interpreting, quality cannot be delivered in the same measure as in-person interpreting. Your proceedings have been interrupted hundreds of times since going virtual because we just can't make out what you are saying. In addition to concerns about quality, this is affecting your ability to do your work and is forcing discourse in Parliament into a single language, and it's usually English.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, interpreters have stepped up to do our essential work in Parliament, placing ourselves at risk of injury and infection. Every day, we go to the Hill in spite of the lock downs. Our duty is to bring the Official Languages Act and the Constitution to life with the work we do. We want it to be the best quality it can possibly be, in both Official Languages, even under difficult circumstances. That is why we have come before you today. And that is why we ask you to intervene to protect the quality of the service we provide to you and to Canadians.
Please urge , who is responsible for the Translation Bureau, to instruct her officials to take a precautionary approach to conditions for distance interpreting in the freelancers' contract they are finalizing. And further, please urge the Minister to address the critical shortage of qualified interpreters in Canada on an urgent basis and ensure the very small existing pool of Government accredited interpreters is encouraged to work in the Parliament of Canada and not actively discouraged as they have been.
Thank you. We are happy to take your questions.
Good evening, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Gagnon and Mr. Thompson, thank you very much for being with us this evening.
First of all, I am very pleased that you contacted us parliamentarians to discuss the problem you're experiencing. I also acknowledge the presence of the interpreters working here this evening.
You've taken the time to bring us up to speed on the health and safety problems you're experiencing at work. Personally, that's the angle that interests me in this discussion.
I'd also like to note that the Standing Committee on Official Languages is the most apolitical committee there is. We're in politics, and that isn't always the case, but we've been trying to prepare fairly unanimous reports for many years now.
There is no room for partisanship of any kind in the matter before us today. Our aim isn't to blame the government for what's happening to you, quite the contrary. We want to work with you to find options that will solve some, if not all, of your problems.
Ms. Gagnon you said in your opening remarks that 70% of the people you surveyed said they had suffered illness or injuries, to their hearing in particular. Can you tell us how many people responded to the survey?
First of all, I want to thank you for being with us this evening and for taking part in this committee meeting, which is indeed very important.
Like you interpreters, we are Zoom users too. I am one, and I have to admit that just listening to you when you interpret requires a lot of concentration. So I can imagine what it must be like to do it. I really empathize with you given the work you do, and I can imagine the difficulties you encounter. I also want to thank you for telling us about them.
There is a shared responsibility in this situation. We members must be prepared with our tools and our headsets, and we must speak a little more slowly so you can interpret.
In practical terms, what else do you think we members can do to help you? Should we have stricter rules to ensure better interpretation?
For example, I'd go so far as to suggest that members not be permitted to sit without wearing their headsets. What you think about that?
Thank you for that question.
I can tell you that the platform is the problem. Of course, wearing headsets and having an Internet cable connection should be mandatory because we obviously can't interpret your remarks correctly if we can't hear what you say.
However, it's not just the volume issue. All too often, when we tell people we can't hear them, they turn up the volume. However, what we need is to hear your remarks clearly. You have to understand that we're listening to what you say, processing that information and speaking over your voice. Suddenly, the volume goes up. That's where we risk getting injured because sometimes the volume's too high.
So what you can do as members is reconsider the set-up. I don't really know whether it's possible to consider another platform than Zoom at this point. However, interpretation platforms do exist. You could definitely—and I urge you, implore you and beg you to do it—make it a mandatory rule to wear a headset with an integrated microphone and to get an Internet cable connection.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Thompson and Ms. Gagnon, thank you for being with us this evening. What you say is very interesting and instructive, and I hope the committee can do a good job and help you and all the people you represent.
Our discussions this evening have raised two very important issues: respect for the two official languages and bilingualism, a very important value that we advocate, but also—and perhaps especially—occupational health and safety, on which we accept no compromise.
Ms. Gagnon, you said that 70% of your members had suffered work-related injuries, including tinnitus, nausea, fatigue and other symptoms. That's an enormous percentage. Some of your members are off work, while others are still providing the service that we need and that Canadians and Quebecers need as well.
Do you have any idea of the impact of prolonged exposure to all this toxic sound and the cumulative effect of that exposure that causes occupational injury?
We are here to talk but the quality of sound and auditory safety, but this is a very important question because I'm afraid the spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada has misled you.
It's true that we have worked three or four hours a day since May 2020, when the virtual Parliament started. Our six-hour day shrank to four hours as a result of the precaution taken by the Translation Bureau.
The fact is we don't work three hours a day; that's just the tip of the iceberg. I mentioned the 33,000 species of fish, for example. I have to prepare for those three- or four-hour meetings every day. When I enter the booth, that's the end of the process. I've already spent three or four hours preparing everything; then I enter the booth and have another three or four hours of work ahead of me.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for being here this evening, Ms. Gagnon and Mr. Thompson.
I wanted my colleague Mr. Généreux to start the round of questions because he's the one who introduced the motion. I salute him and my colleagues who made it possible for you to appear here as soon as possible. The Standing Committee on Official Languages made the unanimous decision to invite you to join us this evening and Thursday.
I think we can agree that headsets are necessary for parliamentarians, but, this evening, you raised what I think is the most important aspect, the platform, the software we use. We can understand that the government chose Zoom in a rush, but, based on the figures you've shown us, that software doesn't make the grade. This evening, you said it was a videoconferencing platform, not an interpretation platform. It's also the only software package among all those tested that's rated not compliant on the speech intelligibility criterion. I'd like to hear what you have to say on that subject. I imagine it's extremely important for you to hear and understand what's being said.
My impression is that the Government of Canada is driving a Lada, when we know that linguistic duality is central to our identity and parliamentary activities.
Could you explain to us at greater length how this platform isn't satisfactory?
Your comments may definitely be included in the recommendations we make following your appearance.
Good evening, Ms. Gagnon.
Good evening, Mr. Thompson. I'm going to be directing my first question to you.
In moments of crisis like these, it is especially important that we, as politicians and parliamentarians, be able to communicate effectively with our constituents. I want to basically come back to what you said before when we spoke about the platform and having issues—that we could face different issues. The headset would be one issue, but you also said that fixing one element doesn't necessarily fix the whole problem.
Am I to understand that no matter what platform or device or however we would correct it, we would always encounter some sort of an issue, whether it be Internet connectivity, as you said, or headsets, or whether it be delays in getting the proper equipment?
I'd like for you to elaborate on that this evening. Thank you.
I want to start by quoting from the transcript of the PROC from a meeting at the end of April last year. Harry Moseley, from Zoom, was asked about the suitability of Zoom as an interpretation platform, and he said, “Madam Chair, thank you for the question. I'm not sure I understand what 'simultaneous interpretation' is.” That's pretty illustrative of how suitable Zoom is as a platform for a bilingual country like Canada.
It's true that there are multiple chains in the audio stream from the speaker to the listener and that you're only as strong as your weakest link, but that is not an argument to allow for weak links to persist. It's an argument, I think, for addressing the weakest links, starting with the platform and working from there. That's the most difficult problem we have.
It's certainly one thing to have members of Parliament using the proper equipment, and that's been terrific; it's been picked up well. We need to do more work with the witnesses on that front. However, we need to put some attention on the platform too.
Thank you for your question, Mr. Dalton.
What I can say to this is that there's a big difference between being online and being in the room with everyone, as I'm sure you've noticed. Everybody can't wait to get together again.
It has made our work more difficult in that, first of all, interpretation is teamwork. We're usually a team of three, and we help each other out. For instance, if we're doing the finance committee and we're listening to briefs and interpreting briefs at a gazillion miles an hour, our colleagues in the booth will jot down numbers so that we say “billions”, not “millions” or “thousands”, and get the numbers right, which is a challenge.
The problem now is that we are all separated, all working alone in one booth on our own, because of COVID-19. On top of which, we go to the Hill and we have the technical support team, but everyone is remote.
We do have a few MPs coming back to the Hill now, so the sound that we are getting, we are getting from different inputs. We are getting it from Zoom, we're getting it from the MPs in the meeting room and we are getting it from people who are online and not using the proper equipment. There's a lot of variability in the sound that is coming through on a platform that, as we've pointed out, is not meeting our requirements in terms of intelligibility.
You certainly have to do your studies at this time to work for the Government of Canada. The translation bureau only hires interpreters who have a master's degree and you....
I'm sorry, Mr. Dubourg. Do I have only one second or one minute left?
The Chair: You have one minute.
Ms. Nicole Gagnon: Okay.
What we need is to invest so that we have more training opportunities to prepare the next generation of interpreters to do the work, so no, you don't have to go through the route of a master's, but if you want to work for the Parliament of Canada.... This is the highest institution in our land in terms of democracy. It's the seat of democracy.
We have to meet exams to work with the bureau. The accreditation exam is the gold standard the world over. Canada is recognized for its quality of work, be it in interpretation, translation or terminology. It's a great source of pride to all Canadians that we have a stellar reputation in terms of these services, so—
I'm sorry. Mr. Dubourg has cut me off.
Ms. Gagnon, I don't have much time and there are so many questions I could put to you. My colleagues have already asked you some good ones.
I'd like to take a look at the data on the health situation. I've read all the documents that were prepared for us for this meeting.
On page 34 of its May 2020 report, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs cited remarks by Greg Phillips, from the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, who said that 40 of the 70 staff interpreters were on sick leave at the time, either as a result of health issues related to current conditions, as you described, or because of childcare needs during the pandemic.
What is the situation, given the statistics you gave us earlier. Do the interpreters who are at home because their children are isolating there, or for other, auditory health reasons, have to be removed from the teams?
Witnesses have always appeared at the last minute at the request of the various committees; that's for sure. However, we see that this definitely occurs more often now that we work remotely.
If you remember the good old days when we were in the committee room, the clerk could distribute the documents that had been received to us. They were sent by email in advance, the day before, if they were available. Otherwise we received them when we arrived for work. We always got to the committee room very early so we could study the documents.
So the impact that has, now we no longer have that service, is that we no longer get the documents, or else we get them on our computer. Imagine receiving 30 briefs that you have to prepare on your computer. You have to print and comb through it all. So the impact is that we aren't as well prepared as we would like to be when we arrive for work, and that's reflected in the service we provide you. I'm not a lawyer. I can't discuss the various legal issues pertaining to the legislation on medical assistance in dying, for example.
The committee is meeting today on its study: Challenges of the Parliamentary Interpretation Service in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the witnesses.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name, but if the question is addressed to you, you may respond. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mic. A reminder that all comments should be addressed through the Chair.
Interpretation in this videoconference 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. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mic should be on mute.
Having said that, I would like to extend a warm welcome to some people who are used to crossing over to the House of Commons from time to time: Charles Robert, Clerk of the House of Commons; Eric Janse, Clerk Assistant; and Stéphan Aubé, Chief Information Officer.
The three of you will have a total of seven and a half minutes to make a presentation. I will tell you when you have one minute left and when your time is up.
Go ahead, Mr. Robert.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate the invitation to address the committee in relation to its study on the “Challenges of the Parliamentary Interpretation Service in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
The role of the House Administration in the provision of interpretation services is limited and focuses on the technical infrastructure. As you know, the interpreters are employed by the Translation Bureau, an agency of Public Services and Procurement Canada. The House is responsible for providing the facilities and tools required by the interpreters to support proceedings.
Over the years, and throughout the pandemic, the Administration has continued to work hand in hand with the Translation Bureau to ensure the health and safety of the interpreters and offer the high-quality interpretation services required by parliamentarians to do their work.
It is my understanding that you will be hearing from the Translation Bureau at a future meeting and that their representatives will be able to share with you information as to the many measures that they have put into place to address this situation.
Since the introduction of hybrid proceedings less than a year ago, the administration's senior management team has been keeping me apprised of the actions taken to ensure that the House's technological infrastructure could support a safe and rapid transition to the new hybrid environment.
Furthermore, the issue before you has been the subject of considerable discussion at recent meetings of the Board of Internal Economy. Information provided to the board by the administration was shared with the chair of the Liaison Committee, who in turn shared it with all committee chairs.
I will provide you with a brief overview of the investments and improvements that have been undertaken to enhance the safety and audio quality of our interpretation system. Along with my colleagues Stéphan and Eric, I will be ready to answer any questions you may have.
As participants in hybrid proceedings, you will already be familiar with some of these initiatives.
The equipment that participants use has a considerable impact on sound quality and a direct impact on interpreters capacity to do their work in adequate and secure fashion. For this reason, we provide Members of Parliament with high-quality headsets with integrated microphones. Given the importance of good connectivity for audio quality, the Administration implemented a comprehensive review of connectivity services available to all Members in their ridings and helped procure upgraded Internet services where necessary. We also reallocated resources to offer enhanced IT support to Members in order to provide hands-on and timely assistance.
Another critical variable that impacts the audio quality of proceedings is the technology and equipment used by witnesses. This is a challenging variable to control, especially in instances where appearances before a committee are organized on short notice. To help mitigate this, we are extending a program whereby we systematically reach out to witnesses to schedule testing of their equipment and connections prior to their participation in committee meetings. In the recent past, this was done by email, but we will now do so by telephone, and it is our hope that the new process will increase results.
Furthermore, we have for many months now shipped headsets to witnesses who may be in need of them, and we have also offered to test connections, something that we will now be insisting on.
We also continue to make significant technological investments in our precinct infrastructure, all in keeping with evolving health and safety recommendations. For instance, noise-limiting interpretation consoles were installed in all 17 committee rooms, as well as in two multi-purpose rooms in the Sir John A. Macdonald Building.
We also set up additional simultaneous interpretation booths: two interpretation booths were added in all committee rooms and three were added to support the Chamber. This was done to allow for better physical distancing as per public health guidelines and to allow for easier and more timely cleaning of the booths.
Our technicians also improved audio programming and system configurations for the Chambers’ sound systems to reduce instances of echo. Updates were also made to the Zoom videoconferencing platform to enhance the user experience.
On the topic of Zoom, I should point out that most parliaments that are operating in a virtual manner are using the Zoom platform, including parliaments using more than one language, such as ours. We are in constant contact with colleagues in other parliaments in order to share best hybrid parliament practices.
In conclusion, I would like to mention that this summer, we participated, with the Translation Bureau, in reviews of the sound system and health and safety protocols in the Chamber and in two committee rooms. The results of these reviews, which were conducted by National Research Council of Canada, were very positive. We are currently focused on facilitating further analysis and possible future fine-tuning of the systems and equipment.
We remain committed to collaborating with Public Services and Procurement Canada so that we can continue to make improvements to the work environment of our interpreters. The commitment to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for everyone is shared by all in the parliamentary community and remains the highest priority in the current environment.
Thank you for the opportunity to address this important topic. Eric, Stéphan and I would be pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'm going to yield my speaking time to my colleague Mr. Généreux, but first I would like to thank the interpreters who have come to testify.
Your work is already very difficult when members speak well in English and French, but even more difficult when members like me speak reasonably well but still make mistakes.
It was very interesting this evening to hear you talk about the problems you're experiencing, and I'm eager to find some solutions. Without your efforts, the House of Commons would be very different and inaccessible for many Canadians. Thank you very much for that.
I now yield my speaking time to Mr. Généreux.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I hope you don't hear too much wind. There's a lot of wind blowing here right now.
Thanks from the bottom of my heart to the witnesses for accepting our invitation to address this very important topic. I would immediately like to ask you a question.
In her testimony before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Nathalie Laliberté, vice-president of the service to Parliament and interpretation sector at the Translation Bureau, said that the bureau and the House of Commons Administration had established a set of criteria that had to be met, if possible, in the provision of remote interpretation.
Is it possible for us to know those criteria? Are they publicly known?
I'm asking any one of the witnesses.
Mr. Généreux, I'd like to emphasize that we meet the ISO standards respecting booths, interpretation systems and conference systems.
I should add that, for us, Zoom is not the interpretation system used in the House of Commons. We have a different model, and Zoom is a tool that may be used for meetings such as ours.
There are other videoconferencing platforms, such as Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex, and there are also platforms that lend themselves specifically to meetings directly involving interpretation. Lastly, there is a fourth model, one we have chosen, the hybrid model.
This model enables us to meet ISO standards and lets people work as they were already working. We added an element, Zoom, solely to allow information to be transmitted among the various participants. It's important to ensure that our systems meet ISO standards.
I see, but, as you'll understand, the interpreters have hearing problems. I don't mean to be adopting an accusatory tone here, quite the contrary. I want us to look at this together and find a solution.
I should also tell the committee that, since last spring, we've been using headsets every day, even for several hours a day, as were doing today—I will have had this on my head for six hours—and now I have a ringing in my ears and a headache that I never previously had. I've never had a headache in my life.
So we have to understand that these people have real problems. As a result, the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy has looked into their working conditions.
In your work in the House of Commons, you decided to opt for Zoom because you wanted a hybrid model, but were there any other possible solutions?
I'd like to talk about headsets now, another important matter.
I've never understood why headsets weren't made compulsory from the outset. Three or four of them should have been sent to each parliamentarian so that there would be a headset at each workplace. This evening, I'm working from home, and I have a headset. I also have one in my office in Ottawa and another at my riding office in Rivière-du-Loup. I never hesitated to ask for them.
Wouldn't it have been simpler from the very outset to just send three or four headsets to every M.P.?
Once again today, some witnesses and parliamentarians forgot their headset and used small earbuds instead. That certainly doesn't make the interpreters' work any easier.
I'd like to clarify something.
As I said earlier, we implemented a hybrid model. At the moment, the interpreters don't work directly with Zoom. Instead, they use the currently available consoles and headsets.
We are using Zoom only for audio transmission of the quality audio from the committee room systems. Currently, the audio and interpretation both come from an interpretation room and are sent to all participants; the same is the case for the participants. Their audio is sent to the interpreters through our audio systems, which are operated in accordance with the ISO standards that also protect the interpreters' hearing.
Zoom is therefore simply a mechanism for transmitting over the Internet. Everything that happens here and in the House makes use of our own systems, which comply with current ISO standards.
It's rather a combination of things, Mr. Arseneault.
We keep in very close touch with people at the Translation Bureau, and some of them interact with our managers and employees on site.
In addition, the technicians are on the premises every day for every meeting. This means that they are made aware of whether the interpreters have encountered any problems during the meeting. We make note of them, keep statistics on them and follow up with members and witnesses, where required, in order to explain to them what needs to be changed to improve the situation.
We do these things every day to ensure quality, and to look after the health and safety of the interpreters.
I'd like to return to what was said earlier.
There's really a contradiction between what the interpreters presented and what we've just heard.
The Association's documents specifically state that the Zoom platform may have been chosen for good reasons, but that "its suitability for delivering quality interpretation could not have been one of them." The interpreters described the sound as "toxic" in terms of the ISO standards established by international experts. We were also told about all the injuries to which they were subjected.
There's also a small table showing that in terms of quality, Zoom comes in last on the list of various platforms.
What's your take on that?
I can't comment on that because I don't have the Association's data.
But I can tell you that we've been working closely with the parliaments of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which have also prepared reports comparing the various platforms. As I was saying earlier, four models were compared. We are using one of them, which is not the Zoom version with interpretation only, but a hybrid model with several additional health and safety features.
In fact, the comparison that was made in the previous presentation was not very accurate. It's important to look at the facts and compare existing models. I don't want to put words in the mouth of any of the Association's representatives. I'm simply reporting what I understand about what was said and what we're comparing.
We compared the standard version of Zoom with the other products, but that is not the version we're using. As I said earlier, Zoom is only one component of a platform that has been designed for quality, and for the health and safety of the people taking part in our meetings.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to thank all the witnesses who are giving evidence this evening. Messrs. Robert, Janse and Aubé, I'm very pleased that you're with us to speak about an important matter that affects not only respect for official languages, but also occupational health and safety, something of concern to everyone.
You began, Mr. Aubé, by saying that the equipment used and the Zoom platform meet ISO standards.
Do you have a report or a study you could send to the committee members to demonstrate that the tests and checks were carried out and that the system does indeed meet ISO standards?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to thank my colleague, Mr. Généreux.
Thanks also to our House of Commons representatives. Mr. Clerk, it's always an honour to have you sit in on this committee.
What we're going through is chaos. We're in committee and I'm here in my office in Lévis, in the middle of a snowstorm, and Mr. Généreux is in Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.We're aware of the fact that you had to do some fancy footwork and make some snap decisions.
We've spent a lot of time discussing the platform this evening. The table we were given refers to Zoom standard and Zoom advanced. Is the House of Commons using the version that is compliant with speech intelligibility? That's my first technical question this evening.
Yes indeed. That would be an excellent solution.
However, even though we can generally get these headsets out to people within 48 hours to most parts of Canada, it might be more difficult on weekends or when people live in more remote areas, for example.
And this only happens once the witness's attendance has been confirmed. The committee has to have decided which witnesses it wants to hear. Then it has to contact them to confirm their presence and obtain their address so that we can send the headset. This might take a few days. After that, some tests have to be carried out.
All in all, the process might take up to a week, and as you mentioned earlier, in most instances the advance notification period for witnesses is much shorter.
The decision wasn't an easy one. We made it in the spring, early on in the crisis. We immediately put together a team to size up what was being done elsewhere. As I mentioned a short while ago, we were also in contact with several other parliaments, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, to find out how they were doing things and what options they had considered. For example, we worked with the British Parliament to find out how they were proceeding. They too had decided to use Zoom. However, I need to point out that the British Parliament does not provide any interpretation services.
We asked ourselves what platform we should choose to deliver quality services. We also took other important criteria into consideration, including security. We were also looking into how to integrate it with our existing systems. It's important for the interpreters to be able to use the existing consoles and booths, which are compliant with ISO standards. Zoom allowed for this integration and made it possible for us to provide the service without having to change too many things for the people working on Parliament Hill. These are a few of the criteria we considered.
We also looked into broadcasting. Zoom allowed us to integrate our broadcasting systems, and to provide other services to parliamentarians. For example, we use Zoom for press conferences, because it can function in different modes.
When we made our decision in March 2020, we also took the scale of events into account. Zoom was one of the only platforms that would allow us to have more than 300 people connected. That was another criterion we factored in.
Health and safety were other criteria. As I previously mentioned, we wanted to be able to integrate our systems and to comply with standards. The Translation Bureau didn't impose these standards on us, because we work in partnership with them. It's certainly a key factor for them. We held discussions and were told that they preferred for us to continue to use the existing systems on the Hill, because they provided the proper protection for their employees.
Those, Mrs. Lalonde, are all the criteria we took into consideration before coming to this difficult decision.
That's it for the meeting.
Members of the committee, allow me to warmly thank the witnesses, Mr. Charles Robert, Clerk of the House of Commons, Mr. Eric Janse, Clerk Assistant, and Mr. Stéphan Aubé, Chief Information Officer.
Thank you very much for your testimony. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank all staff, and particularly our interpreters and technicians.
Thank you and good evening.
The meeting is now adjourned.