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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Perfect. Thank you.
We now move to the third item, “Translation Bureau – Resources Utilisation for Simultaneous Interpretation”.
Right now I'll hand it over to Lucie Séguin.
After that, Matthew Ball will have the floor.
I don't know if any others would like to present or if they are just going to answer questions.
At the last meeting, members had a lot of questions. So I'm wondering, would it be possible to limit question time to five or six minutes. I don't want to limit questions, but I want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to ask questions.
Please be as concise as possible when you're asking your questions. Try to keep to five or six minutes. Then we'll let the next person go, loop around again, and start over, if that's okay. Again, I'll let everyone be their own police officer and control their timing.
We begin with Mrs. DeBellefeuille.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
All right.
I was asking because I want to give my speaking time to Mr. Julian. He didn't get to ask his questions at the last meeting, so I gave him the opportunity.
Basically, my questions are pretty simple.
Ms. Séguin, when you made your presentation, which was fascinating, we learned a lot about how the Translation Bureau works, what your responsibilities are, and what the responsibilities of the House Administration are. We had to end our meeting abruptly, and that's why you came back to testify today.
You stated that 14 incidents were identified in the House of Commons, but I believe you did not finish the breakdown into incident categories.
Can you tell us how many incidents were identified by interpreters working in committee rooms?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:06
Thank you very much.
First, I would like to inform the members of the Board of Internal Economy that my colleague Matthew Ball, vice-president of interpretation services, is joining us from Winnipeg. I would also like to take a quick moment to thank our interpreters in the booth today: Cecilia, Carol and Bryce.
I thank the member for her question. Things ended a little abruptly last time. We cited the number of incident reports that were filed with the Translation Bureau. I'd like to give you the breakdown by year.
In 2019, 23 incident reports were filed. In 2020, 125 were filed, and in 2021, there were 99. The number 14 was mentioned, so we checked the information concerning Parliament. By the way, I wish to remind the members of the Board of Internal Economy that the Translation Bureau provides services not only to the House and its committees, but also the Senate, the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery and the Cabinet, among others.
Of the 99 incidents reported in 2021, 73 involved Parliament, including the Parliamentary Precinct. Next, of the 125 incidents reported in 2020, 110 were related to the clients I just mentioned, including the Senate, the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery and the Privy Council Office. In 2019, of 23 reports, 21 were related to Parliament.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
As you know, Ms. Séguin, our discussions are public and the interpreters' union is listening carefully to your comments. The Board of Internal Economy has no mandate to manage labour relations, far from it. However, we want to validate the figures we've received from the two unions representing the interpreters, be they Translation Bureau interpreters or other interpreters working within the House Administration, including freelancers, because we don't have the same breakdown. How can you explain that?
The tables that were sent to the chair and that we have all been copied on indicate that there have been 107 incidents in committee rooms. I imagine that includes both Senate and House of Commons committees. We know that there are fewer incidents in the House of Commons than in committee rooms.
Why don't you arrive at the number in the tables that were sent to the chair?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:09
Thank you very much for your question.
I'd like to say that since the pandemic began, we've been meeting regularly with our union partners at the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, or CAPE, the union that represents all translators, interpreters and terminologists at the Translation Bureau. We sit with them on a health and safety committee, so we all have access to the same incident reports. The data that I gave you are the raw data. I don't have access to the methodology used by our CAPE colleagues, who may have done a more in‑depth analysis than we have.
As you know, today there are three interpreters in the booth here. We have about 50 interpreters on Parliament Hill, and with the pandemic, there are committee rooms all over the place. So I can't comment on the methodology that our colleagues at CAPE have used, but the raw data that I've provided you on the total number of incident reports should be consistent with those of our union partners because we actually share the same source of information.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Séguin, thank you for your presentation.
My first question has to do with workplace injuries. How many cases of auditory injury have been reported by the interpreters?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:11
Thank you very much for your question.
I'll turn to my colleague Matthew Ball, but first I can tell you that incident reports are filed by the employees and that the most common symptoms reported include headache, fatigue and tinnitus. The numbers I gave you are the number of incident reports.
There are currently no Translation Bureau interpreters on sick leave due to a sound‑related incident. However, about 10 of our interpreters are interpreting part time and are assigned to other related duties because of medical recommendations that they should be given rest.
I can take pause and turn it over to my colleague Mr. Ball, if he has anything to add.
Matthew Ball
View Matthew Ball Profile
Matthew Ball
2022-03-03 11:12
Thank you, Ms. Séguin.
Our reports indicate three types of injuries. Disabling injuries refer to cases where the interpreter consults a doctor and obtains a medical certificate for one day or more of leave. There are also minor injuries.
Near misses is the third type. A near miss is when no medical care has been given and there has been no time off work. For example, if an interpreter goes home, has a headache and hears a ringing in the ears, it is called a near miss because there was no medical consultation.
Last year, in 2021, out of 99 injuries, 36 injuries were disabling and 63 were near misses. There were no minor injuries. Does that answer your question?
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Yes, thank you. It answers the question, but the numbers are different from the ones the union provided.
The union indicated that 68 injuries resulted in time off work. I would like to touch on that for a moment, because it's extremely important and I know you take it seriously as well.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Before I became an MP, I worked with deaf and hard‑of‑hearing people. During the recent occupation in Ottawa, an entire downtown population were exposed to a noise level that must have caused permanent injury.
It's the same thing here when we talk about injuries requiring interpreters to take sick leave to recuperate. Often, these injuries can cause permanent hearing loss. For that reason, I'd like to know whether the number of interpreters who have suffered permanent hearing loss is recorded.
In addition, do they undergo periodic hearing tests, as is usually done in workplaces with variable or high noise levels? Has that process already been put in place on Parliament Hill?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:15
Your question is very important. I'd first like to reiterate that the entire Translation Bureau management team is very concerned and aware of this issue. We are doing everything we can to protect the health and safety of interpreters.
A few studies have been undertaken by the bureau to help us understand the long‑term effects of exposure to less than optimal noise. In the first, the National Research Council of Canada, or NRC, helped us conduct an analysis in collaboration with our colleagues in the House of Commons. This analysis concluded that interpreters are protected in terms of sound quantity, such as acoustic shock, but that there are still some noise quality issues that need to be addressed.
Just to add to that, because there is no evidence‑based studies in Canada or internationally on long‑term effects on hearing, we have invested in two other studies. I'll turn it over to Matthew to talk about what we're doing with the University of Geneva and the University of Ottawa to get more evidence on this.
Matthew Ball
View Matthew Ball Profile
Matthew Ball
2022-03-03 11:16
Thank you, Ms. Séguin.
As the committee has just heard, we lack data and information on the effects of sound quality on interpreters' hearing. At the bureau's request, the NRC has already analyzed the sound quality that suitable for the interpreters' ears in the booth. The analysis revealed that the sound quantity was safe, but that the sound quality still needed to be improved.
The Translation Bureau is therefore finalizing a contract for audiologists from the University of Ottawa to conduct a longitudinal study of reference levels for interpreters' hearing, to follow up on time and to provide care in case of hearing damage. We are currently negotiating the terms of the contract and hope that the study can begin this spring.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Okay.
Another problem that has already been raised by the union is acoustic trauma. I understand what you're saying, but I think it would be important for the committee to hear from union representatives, to ensure that that we're on the same wavelength. Reducing acoustic trauma is extremely important, since it will help prevent injuries.
That said, I'm concerned about the number of injuries at work. We all know that the interpreters work hard and are essential to our work. I'm concerned about the number of injuries. I have enough experience to know that this can contribute to permanent injuries.
Some people have indicated that it's the sound system used by the interpreters that is causing these injuries. Do you agree with that? Are you looking for other ways of conveying the information so that interpreters can do their job without getting injured?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:19
Thank you, Mr. Julian.
I'd like to give some additional information on the previous point.
We immediately put measures in place to change the working conditions of interpreters, right from the start of work in virtual mode. We've reduced the hours of our employees and freelancers, without affecting their pay. We've also increased the number of interpreters per team. Finally, we've been working with the House Administration to ensure, among other things, that testing is done.
The Translation Bureau is responsible for providing interpreters, but it isn't responsible for the technological environment.
I believe my colleagues in the House Administration will be better able to answer questions about the technological means.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'd just like to ask one last question. I didn't mean to filibuster, but the health and safety of House employees are an important issue.
Did you recommend that the House Administration change the House audiovisual system? Is the House Administration looking at alternatives to the audiovisual system?
The union had said that this problem was the source of the workplace injuries.
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:21
That's an excellent question.
We work constantly with the House Administration on everything relating to technical requirements. We want to protect the health of the interpreters, while ensuring that we provide a quality service and minimize interruptions.
We convey what the interpreters need to provide good interpretation services. We have a good understanding of the human aspect. As I mentioned, we communicate on a daily basis the current requirements that allow us to work in optimal technological conditions.
I'm not in a position to give you any answers as to what is within the system. So I'll ask the House Administration to answer those questions. In my opinion, they are in a better position to do so than I am.
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-03-03 11:22
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Julian, following all the incidents that have occurred since the beginning of the pandemic, we've put in place a continuous improvement process with the Translation Bureau. You asked whether the problems that occurred were caused by the system. I would answer that this is not the case.
Several factors contribute to the sound incidents and poor sound quality. The audio system consists of several components such as the microphone, the computer, the quality of the Internet connection, the videoconferencing system and the system used internally in the House. We consider that all these elements to be part of the audio system, and we are working on each of them to improve the interpreters' working conditions.
However, replacing one part of the system isn't enough to solve the problem. This is a problem that exists around the world right now, and if there were a solution, we would have already implemented it, I can assure you, Mr. Julian.
We're working on all of these things to try to improve the situation, and it's constantly improving. I can tell you that it's because of these improvements that we've seen a reduction in the number of incidents involving interpreters over the past two years.
For example, in the first year we replaced all the interpreting consoles to ensure we put an end to incidents among interpreters. We're in the process of replacing the headsets with a microphone to improve the situation. We're evaluating the system to see how we can improve it and changing the configuration to improve the sound quality. We're constantly testing with the National Research Centre Canada and with global experts to ensure that our systems are performing at their best. I have to tell you that the systems we use to solve these problems are very good, if not the best in the world.
View John Brassard Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, sir.
My question relates to parliamentary functions of interpreters and the function as it relates to the cabinet and the Prime Minister. We've obviously seen the parliamentary functions, and we understand where that comes from, whether it's through committee work or work in the House, but there's also when the cabinet and the Prime Minister have their press conference on almost a daily basis as it relates to COVID and other issues.
Can you differentiate between the number of injuries related to the parliamentary function and the function of the cabinet and the Prime Minister? Is there a way to quantify how that's played out?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:28
That's a very good question, Mr. Brassard.
Right now we are looking at the number of incidents and those that occur in the parliamentary precinct. We have not done the analysis to determine where each incident is occurring. We're working actively with our House administration partners as well as our other clients to put in place a rigorous monitoring process to understand where incidents are happening and what the sources of the issues are, and then to put corrective measures in place immediately.
I would say that interpreters are reporting incidents from all over the place right now, including in conference interpretation for departments and agencies as well as the Supreme Court of Canada and the CRTC. We don't have a breakdown of where incidents are happening right now.
View John Brassard Profile
CPC (ON)
Can you speak, then, to the differences between the services provided to parliamentary resources and those provided to the cabinet and Prime Minister? My understanding is that there is a difference between the two. Is that correct?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:29
The interpreters of the Translation Bureau are able to offer their services to all types of clients, whether those be in the precinct, the Privy Council Office or government departments or agencies.
I would say that the type of event is different. Right now we're having a meeting with a hybrid setting. Currently, most of our meetings have a hybrid setting component, but our interpreters are always performing their work on site. From that perspective, it is the same.
Participants in meetings have different, I would say, levels of adherence to our recommended practices. The wearing of headsets and making sure that people have a very stable Internet connection tends to vary depending on where a meeting is occurring.
View John Brassard Profile
CPC (ON)
When do you expect the data collection distinguishing where these injuries are occurring to be complete? When will you be able to provide the committee with any information to show that distinguishing line with respect to what's happening with the parliamentary resources and what's happening with the Prime Minister and the cabinet?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:30
If this is something that is requested of us, we could—
View John Brassard Profile
CPC (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
If I could interrupt, I believe Monsieur Patrice would like to add something on that. Maybe he has more of the technical side of it.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2022-03-03 11:30
Through you, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Brassard, your question is very relevant to us. While the pool of interpreters is offering the service to the cabinet, Privy Council and the press conferences of the Prime Minister, from a technical standpoint it's not the House that's providing that service to cabinet and the press conferences and so on. It's a different system altogether. Those incidents would not be related, for example, to the technical system that the House uses.
View John Brassard Profile
CPC (ON)
Through you, Chair, to Mr. Patrice, if the system is not similar, does that mean that the risk of injury would be greater? We've applied a pretty consistent system within our parliamentary resources. Is there anything being used outside of those parliamentary resources, such as in the example that you gave, that would cause the interpreters to be at any greater risk?
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2022-03-03 11:31
I could not comment necessarily on the system that the Privy Council, press conferences or cabinet uses. Maybe Stéphan has more information about that.
Obviously our greatest concern is the health and safety of our interpreters. That's why we continually improve, but we can only improve the system for which we have overall responsibility. For us, the details you are asking for with respect to the incidents and the nature of the incidents are very germane to our ability to try to find a solution and fix the problem.
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-03-03 11:32
All I can say, Mr. Brassard, through you, Mr. Speaker, is that at the beginning of the pandemic, most of the press conferences weren't using the same technology as the participants are using. You saw a larger rate of incidents happening at that stage.
We are working to provide advice and solutions in order to minimize the risk. We don't want the interpreters to be sick because they're participating in other types of events. We are providing guidance in that fashion, sir, in order to limit them.
View John Brassard Profile
CPC (ON)
Mr. Chair, I do have one more question, and then I'll cede the floor. I may come back to others as well.
An unsafe workplace complaint has been launched against the Translation Bureau because of interpretation arrangements. Can you speak to that just to provide the committee with some insight as to the basis of the complaint?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:33
What I can say about that, Mr. Brassard, is that we are aware that there is a complaint that has been filed. It will be assigned to health and safety professionals.
I want to remind everyone that we're making every effort to mitigate the risks while we are trying to find solutions actively with our House administration partners and other clients, and we are fully co-operating while the complaint resolution process gets under way. That really is the extent to which I can comment.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
This is obviously a concern for us, as it involves injuries. Occupational health and safety are non-negotiable.
What was the workplace injury frequency for interpreters before technologies we use today, such as Zoom, were implemented?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:34
Thank you, Mr. MacKinnon.
I provided a breakdown of incident reports filed by interpreters as of 2019. There were 23 total incidents in 2019, four incidents in 2018, 10 incidents in 2017 and five incidents in 2016.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
So there seems to be a strong correlation with the arrival and the use of technology for House and committee meetings.
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:35
Yes, definitely. We can say that, since remote meetings began, where interpretation services are required for participants who are not all attending in person, an increase in incident reports has been noted.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
I would like to put a question to you for my information, but don't hesitate to let me know if you think it should rather be addressed to Mr. Aubé.
As parliamentarians, we sometimes spend entire days on Zoom, not only as part of our duties in the House and in committee, but in other circumstances, as well. I don't think that, like us, our interpreter friends are using $2.50 headphones or even headsets like the ones provided and tested by the House.
I don't want to complain about anything, but isn't it true that we are exposing ourselves to the same risks as the interpreters, whether we are talking about compressed audio or other factors that constitute a hearing hazard?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:37
That is a very good question. People often talk about the “Zoom effect”. That is exactly what we are trying to understand. As the employer of the largest number of interpreters in Canada, the Translation Bureau team is trying to answer those questions.
Unfortunately, there have been no conclusive studies on the impact of exposure to poor sound quality. We are familiar with problems related to the amount of sound. I don't want to use too many technical terms, but I can tell you that, what has helped us a lot and has also helped our colleagues from the House administration, was the study by the National Research Council of Canada, the NRC. That study included specific tests and involved acoustical engineers and audiologists. That is currently an emerging field.
We are still looking for partners, be it in Canada or abroad, to help us fund more studies, but that is exactly what we are trying to understand right now.
This is purely speculative, but I could tell you that, yes, technically, everyone who uses technology to participate in meetings is exposed to risks. However, I can tell you that the NRC study indicates that interpreters in the booth don't have access to the same sound quality as participants in virtual meetings, who have a much better sound quality than our interpreters in booths because of the devices in place to protect interpreters' hearing. That is our understanding of the NRC study.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
If I have understood correctly, the equipment for protecting our interpreters contributes to the risk of injury. Is that right?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:38
To avoid acoustic bursts, we regulate the amount of sound that goes into the interpreter's ear. That said, the process is much more complex than that. I don't claim to be an expert in acoustical engineering, but I know that a host of other factors must be taken into account. When the sound goes through computers, through the Internet, it is subjected to very sophisticated processing. There is a lot of manipulation that enables the sound to go from my mouth to my microphone, and then to the interpreter's year.
I think that my colleagues from the House would be in a better position than me to talk about the technological environment. Acoustical experts also help us understand this entire phenomenon.
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-03-03 11:39
Mr. MacKinnon, according to the data from our analyses, sound is different depending on whether it is coming from the Internet to the room or from the room to the Internet.
Does this lead to a difference in quality? Does the perceived difference have an impact on people's hearing? I cannot answer this, but we have definitely determined that there is a difference between the two.
The work we are currently doing with world experts, experts on sound quality, consists in improving elements that will help us have a similar quality on both sides. That is what we are currently trying to do.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Which risks interpreters face differ from the risks faced by people using similar technology throughout the whole day? We may be talking about technology related to interpretation or not, of course. What are the risks for people who participate in Zoom meetings or hybrid meetings?
This is clearly a major societal issue if the risks are the same. I have no doubt that the House administration and the Translation Bureau have worked hard to buy the right equipment, to carry out the best possible research and to decrease the risks to interpreters.
In theory, the average person who uses Zoom to participate in a meeting is exposed to the same risks, but the situation is not quite the same.
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-03-03 11:42
Mr. Chair, I will raise only a few elements.
The interpreter's role is clearly completely different from the role of those listening to them. The cognitive aspect requires a much greater effort from interpreters than from those participating in the meeting who are only listening to what is being said. A connection can be established between sound and this, but it is different.
We must analyze various elements, and that is what we are currently doing, with the help of experts. That is actually what Ms. Séguin has asked experts who are doing research in this area. She wanted to understand why interpreters are feeling it more than others. She also wanted to understand the connection between the two.
All those participating in the committee's meeting are currently hearing the same thing. The sound is the same for the interpreters. However, the interpreters who are listening to Mrs. DeBellefeuille, whose sound is coming from outside the room, seem to perceive a difference in terms of sound quality. When Mrs. DeBellefeuille is listening to Mr. Ball, the sound seems to be better. Those are the current perceptions. We are studying them to try to understand where that difference comes from.
We have implemented certain things to protect interpreters' hearing. But we currently don't know where their fatigue and headaches are coming from. Ms. Séguin and her team are working with experts. We, on our end, are working on our audio systems to continue to improve the situation, to make the sound steady across the two platforms.
That is where we are at right now. You said this was a societal issue, but the problem is global; it is not a problem we are experiencing only in the House or in Parliament.
View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Chair.
Following up on the line of questioning I had the last time we had this conversation, just as a quick reminder, Madame Séguin, the rate of injury prior to going to a hybrid or virtual Parliament was significantly less than it is after we adopted the virtual and hybrid Parliament. Is that correct?
View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
Could you give us a reminder? Could you remind us of what the ratio is? Is it five times as many injuries? Is it 10 times as many injuries?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:44
Okay, no problem.
With regard to the rate of reported incidents, there is a distinction to be made between reporting an incident and an injury. This is exactly what we're trying to determine.
In terms of reported incidents, yes, they have gone up. As I said before, in 2017 there were 10 reported incidents. In 2018 there were four. In 2019 there were 23. Then it goes to 125 in 2020 and 99 in 2021.
View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay.
Mr. Aubé, the equipment that's sitting in front of me right now is the equipment that was sitting here in 2017. The device that I'm listening to is the same as in 2017. The issue isn't the actual technology within the confines of the House of Commons, because the technology doesn't appear to have changed at all.
I know I'm stating the obvious when I say we have a requirement for a virtual Parliament. I'm not questioning whether those things needed to happen or not; we all agreed to them. It seems to me it's the inability to control things, as you've said, over the Internet, whether it's feedback or whether it's the quality of the bandwidth or the connection. In your opinion—and you've done the best you can to get the best equipment possible for everybody involved—there are still so many wild cards involved that this is as good as it's going to get going forward if we continue to maintain a hybrid Parliament or a virtual Parliament.
Is that a fair statement? Would you agree with my statement?
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-03-03 11:46
I would agree, Mr. Calkins, that there are multiple variables that we can't control, such as the Internet, to your point, and they do have an effect on the audio quality when people are coming in, but I would also say we're striving, sir, to continuously make improvements in order to mitigate these.
View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
The issue we have is not necessarily with members who have devices that are provided to them to participate virtually, whether it's in the House of Commons, at committees or elsewhere, but it is noticeable that sometimes the equipment of participants or witnesses who are asked to appear before committees might not be at the same standard as the equipment that's provided to members of the House. Is that correct?
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-03-03 11:47
That is a correct statement, sir.
View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
Is it a cost issue that we can't get these witnesses the right equipment? Is it a time constraint? What is preventing us from having a standard that witnesses are able to meet?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2022-03-03 11:47
Sure. Thank you.
Through you, Mr. Speaker, there are some of those variables. It's not, generally speaking, a cost issue. We have a process whereby we automatically issue approved headsets to any witnesses who are appearing before committee. We get them out as soon as the clerks are advised that someone is going to be appearing before our committee. Generally speaking, it takes two days to get a headset to someone anywhere in Canada. It's a pretty efficient process, but sometimes witnesses are asked to appear at the last minute. There are other considerations as well. Those are all variables that come into it.
We don't provide other equipment, in terms of computers and their Internet connections and stuff. It's—
View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
We're blessed, as members, to have a tech-savvy department backing us up. Witnesses might not have that same level of tech savviness supporting them. That's all understandable. Is that correct?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2022-03-03 11:48
—we do offer quite a bit of support, though. Stéphan's team, the IT ambassadors, do pretest the onboarding of witnesses—
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2022-03-03 11:48
—to make sure they are able to participate. We do that in advance of the meeting, and then at the meeting we do our best to make sure that everything goes smoothly.
View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
My last question is for both Mr. Aubé and Ms. Séguin.
If we were to do away with, as soon as possible.... I think we're slated to go until June 23, unless we change our minds to do it sooner. The best way to ensure the safety and security of the people who are employed here at the House, particularly our interpreters, who seem to be shrinking pool of talent, would be to resume the normal practice and go back to a normal Parliament and forgo the video conferencing and teleconferencing that we're currently relying on heavily.
Would both of you agree with that statement?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:49
If I may, through the Speaker, the working conditions are much preferable in person right now in terms of both quality of sound and quantity of sound, for sure. In terms of ensuring the health and safety of interpreters as well as minimizing interruptions and maintaining the quality of the service, as things stand right now, when meetings occur in person, we have a better chance of—
View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
Well, obviously; I mean, the numbers support that 100%, right?
Mr. Aubé. do you agree?
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-03-03 11:50
Yes, definitely, Mr. Calkins. As more participants take part in person, you should see a reduction. I wouldn't want to say that we have to remove it all, because you'll always have a case of a witness who has to participate remotely—
View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
Even prior to COVID, sir, if I may, we did have teleconferencing and sometimes video conferencing, but they weren't primary. They were a secondary use, when it was just not possible for witnesses to travel or they were from New Zealand or some other place like that.
I'm not suggesting that those things should not happen anymore; it's just to not rely on those as a primary mode of appearing before the House or a committee.
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-03-03 11:50
Recognizing the existing technologies that are out there, sir, it's a fair statement that you'll see a reduction. The more that participants appear in person, the more the reduction you'll see in incidents. You should see that, sir.
View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
Well, I would hope that everybody here at this board would take that under advisement. It looks like we have no choice but to do what's right for our interpreters and return as quickly as possible to a non-hybrid parliamentary session.
Thank you to the witnesses.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I will be pretty quick, as a number of the aspects I wanted to cover have been raised by my colleague, the whip of the official opposition.
At the Board of Internal Economy, we have dedicated a lot of time to analyzing this issue and to worrying about our interpreters' fate. As you know, interpreters are essential to the proper operation of our democracy and to our participation, as parliamentarians, in the House of Commons and its committees. Sincerely, interpreters are indispensable, especially to unilingual members, be they francophones or anglophones.
I am adding my voice to the voice of my colleague from the official opposition. We will soon have decisions to make on whether to continue with or stop parliamentary work in a hybrid format. It should be pointed out that the pandemic has had a number of victims. In Parliament, the victims who have suffered permanent collateral damage are our interpreters. They have been going through hard times, and I think the figures are conclusive on this.
So I encourage my colleagues to take this into account in their discussions. As whip of the Bloc Québécois, I know that members of all parties like the hybrid model, but we have to remember that it was put in place temporarily to enable us to meet during the exceptional situation caused by the pandemic. The plan was for it to come to an end.
In a few minutes, we will probably have an opportunity to discuss our plan for reopening the parliamentary precinct. This reminds us that all the parties in the House of Commons will have to make decisions over the coming weeks. We must never forget everything we learned today. If we continue to sit in a hybrid format, the short-term situation will not be improved by studies whose conclusions will be known in two years or technological efforts by the IT team, and the number of accidents will continue to increase. Normally, work would have to be redone.
I am adding my voice to that of my colleague to say that, once we have to make decisions, we mustn't forget the following: if someone expresses the desire for Parliament to continue its work in hybrid format, that will send the interpreters a message that their health is of little importance to us.
In closing, Mr. Chair, rest assured that the health and safety of interpreters, who are very dear to us, will always be at the heart of the Bloc Québécois' concerns.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I have always seen the Board of Internal Economy as a non-partisan forum, where we are not repeating debates we have already held in the House and where we should always focus on the House administration and the best way to apply the decisions made by the House of Commons. So I disagree with certain comments, which seem more appropriate in the House then at the Board of Internal Economy, which is non-partisan.
That said, could you confirm that a study has indeed been carried out by the National Research Council of Canada on the issue of interpreters and sound quality in the House of Commons?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-03-03 11:55
Yes, the Translation Bureau did contract the NRC's services for a study on the amount and quality of sound, which we discussed a bit. That study was done with the full cooperation of House administration employees. The board is actually responsible for the health and safety of individuals, but it was important for us to involve partners in charge of technological infrastructure.
Mr. Ball could perhaps provide more details on this important study.
Matthew Ball
View Matthew Ball Profile
Matthew Ball
2022-03-03 11:56
We did contract the NRC to assess the quality and amount of sound reaching the interpreters in the facilities of the House.
Concerning the amount of sound, the report indicates that interpreters are indeed protected by the installed safety devices. The simultaneous interpretation consoles, which were replaced by the House of Commons, control in half a second any sound that exceeds 84 decibels. So the NRC confirmed that interpreters were protected when it comes to the amount of sound.
As for sound quality, it is different than it would be in person. As was said earlier, this is due to sound processing, its transformation and its compression by filters and the Internet. We want to better understand the impact of that sound processing on interpreters' health and hearing. We don't know that yet.
Matthew Ball
View Matthew Ball Profile
Matthew Ball
2022-03-03 11:58
Yes. I think it was previously sent to the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much.
Unless I am mistaken, one of the study's recommendations was along the lines of what I said earlier, that the audiovisual system must be improved. Is that right?
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-03-03 11:59
Yes, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Julian, the report states that NRC has observed the sound differences between the internal system and the external system. It seems that the report blames the internal system. However, from the administration side, we haven't been able to achieve the same results, even with other parties. We're pursuing our efforts. We've had several discussions with them to try to understand their findings.
The report contains some measurable and accepted observations. However, other observations haven't yet been accepted by the administration or confirmed by our independent tests.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
I'm reading from the report, which says:
This demonstrates that the AV system, in its present set-up configuration, used for ZOOM videoconferencing in the Committee Room 425 is non-ISO 20109 compliant.
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-03-03 12:00
I would agree with that, sir. I would say that right now in the virtual world, in the virtual elements, we have not seen a system yet that can integrate with any of the systems that we use right now that would be ISO compliant.
That is a fair statement. The goal is to have a quality of audio that is similar to that, recognizing what's possible right now. We believe that what we are achieving is very close to that, but it is not to ISO standards. You can't say that all of the elements of the supply chain are ISO compliant.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Okay. Thank you.
Mr. Speaker, I think that we should also invite the union to one of the upcoming Board of Internal Economy meetings.
All my questions have been answered. However, I'm still a little concerned that the information from the union differs somewhat from the information provided here. I think that it would be good to clarify things with the union at one of the upcoming Board of Internal Economy meetings.
Thank you.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
We'll move on to the next item on the agenda.
It's the letter that we received from the International Association of Conference Interpreters and that you can find in our binder. It invites us to come here or to submit a document.
I would like to suggest that we ask for a document. That way, the information provided can prepare us for a visit if we deem it necessary.
What I'd like to do is ask that the AIIC submit the submission that they talked of—
Mr. Michel Patrice: And the union.
Hon. Anthony Rota: —and the union. I'm sorry. We'll get that from ACEP as well. With that extra information, we can see where we go from there. I think that would be a fair way to proceed.
From what I'm hearing and from what I'm feeling, I don't think there's any question that we want what's best for our interpreters. We don't want their health to go down a road that is going to hurt them or be something that they'll regret later in life. With that extra information, hopefully, we'll be able to answer some questions and improve their conditions.
Thank you to both Ms. Séguin and Mr. Ball for appearing.
Now we'll go on to the fourth item, which is the quarterly financial report for the third quarter of 2021. Monsieur St. George and Madame Valiquette will be presenting.
I'm sorry. I thanked our visitors, but I didn't thank our technical people, Mr. McDonald and Monsieur Aubé, for being with us. You've been very helpful. Thank you.
Mr. St George, you have the floor.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am happy to speak to this, particularly on the issue of interpreters and the dashboard that was in the Liaison Committee report.
I would like to thank all the clerks for preparing this dashboard for us. It allows us to follow the progress of the efforts made by the House administration to reduce as much as possible the technological problems, the sound problems and the problems that our interpreters have.
One of the problems with virtual work are the issues arising from connectivity and technical errors. This has an impact on the quality of the interpretation.
I'd like to thank the staff for keeping this dashboard; I know it's a lot of work, and it's in addition to their daily tasks. They did a good job.
I have looked at the dashboard, and I have found that there are still problems; the performance rate has not yet reached 100%. Improvements have been made, but there are still a lot of problems.
The fact that the committee meets through the Zoom application has implications for francophone MPs, primarily, but also for anglophone MPs. The latter need to hear the interpretation well when an MP speaks in French.
I am therefore asking that the dashboard be maintained. As I said, it allows us to follow the progress of the administration's efforts to correct the problems, in order to improve the quality of the sound, and therefore, the quality of the interpretation.
For two weeks, my team monitored the progress of all the committees. On the whole, I must say that we were surprised to see the many problems that there have been since the work resumed in January. I don't want to generalize, but this has happened in several committees.
One of the problems is that many members are still not using the equipment provided by the House.
For example, this morning at the meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, one member attended the meeting using her iPhone headphones. I will not name the MP or her party — it was not mine.
So the interpreters are complaining about the sound quality.
In committee, there are also problems because the chair does not always respect routine motions.
According to a routine motion which has been adopted by all committees, the chair must say, before the meeting begins, that the tests have been carried out for all the witnesses. Few do so. The fact that the tests have not been carried out, or have been carried out too shortly before the start of the meeting, is a problem.
I know it is not your responsibility, but the chief clerk is with us today. Perhaps he could be asked to make the chair of the Liaison Committee, Ms. Sgro, aware of the importance of routine motions. It is the duty of a committee chair to respect routine motions.
As this is a new motion, the clerks should endeavour to remind the chair that they must ensure that the tests have been done.
At the meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs two weeks ago, I learned, by chance, that members are no longer being tested. It is taken for granted that members are aware, after two years, that they should not come to the meeting without the right equipment.
As my colleagues know, repeating yourself is part of a whip's job.
In some committees, members were not using the equipment provided by the House, which made the job of the interpreters more difficult, as the sound quality is not the same.
Sometimes it also sounds like the sound is reverberating. I will report on some of those incidents.
As I am generous, I will give my notes on this to Mr. McDonald or Mr. Aubé. Sometimes the interpreters have difficulty working, because there the sound reverberates. Also, at the February 1 meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, there was a lot of interference, which caused problems for the interpreters.
Also, on two occasions, the chair allowed witnesses to testify even though their cameras were not working. In my view, it is part of the rules of the game to see the faces of witnesses, unless they have made an agreement or the committee is meeting in camera for reasons of confidentiality or even security. However, in the instances I mention, this was not the case.
There is even one committee chair who let the meeting continue, even though there had been points of order because the interpretation was not working. At a meeting of the Standing Committee on National Defence, there was an anglophone witness whose interpretation channel was not working. So when the Bloc member asked him a question in French, she could not hear or understand his answers. As a result, this prevented active participation by the Bloc member, because the chair allowed the session to continue.
You will understand, then, that the struggle I am waging today in the Board of Internal Economy is important. It is about maximizing the participation of members, whether they speak French or English, and making sure that they have access to good services, but also reminding the clerks to be very supportive of chairs that do not respect the housekeeping motions and do not seem to be very sensitive to the participation of French-speaking members.
I consider that the clerk can do some of the work with the clerks and the Liaison Committee, but, as I am fortunate enough to be in the presence of my colleagues the whips of all the parties, I would say that there is some work for them as well. They could remind us of some of the rules that we have set together to maximize participation. It is a question of having adequate equipment, but also of having the concern that the sessions take place entirely in both official languages.
I have to tell you that I'm somewhat impressed. There have been changes, because we don't wait for the Board of Internal Economy to try to find solutions, obviously. Recently, the clerks decided to start doing technical trials with members again, because there was a lack of discipline, and this was among members from all parties.
In fact, at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, several witnesses did not have headsets with microphones. When witnesses do not have proper equipment, it causes health problems for our interpreters. In light of the complaint filed by the interpreters' union, I am surprised that we still allow witnesses or members of Parliament to participate in meetings without the necessary equipment, when we know that a large proportion of work-related accidents affecting interpreters are linked to the quality of the equipment, among other things. I think we have a responsibility in this regard, and we should have zero tolerance.
We have been working virtually for two years. Normally, we should be a little bit better than this. I think everybody is making an effort, but it's not acceptable that witnesses don't have the necessary equipment and that we tolerate it. It's not acceptable that when the interpretation doesn't work and an English-speaking witness speaks, we don't care. I don't understand why I'm still reporting such cases.
I will be happy to provide this document to your team.
Mr. Speaker, I ask three things of you: that you ask the clerk to convene the Liaison Committee, to really raise awareness and provide guidance, and to have each party whip make important reminders to their caucus about the use of equipment, and maybe be a little bit stricter: if you don't have the proper equipment, you don't have the floor. That's the rule we had given ourselves.
On the other hand, if there is no interpretation, there is no testimony. If there is no interpretation, we cannot speak. If we continue to give the impression that it is not so serious, we trivialize the effects on the health and safety of our interpreters. I don't know if my colleagues agree with me.
So I will summarize my proposal: that the dashboard be maintained; that the Liaison Committee be seized of the difficulties we have talked about today; and that we be able to have answers, following the analysis that I will table of all the events with the dates and the names of the committees, in order to see if, indeed, we in the Bloc Québécois have the same analysis as your team regarding technology.
This must be an important point for the Board of Internal Economy because we care about both the health and safety of our interpreters, and the ability to participate in debates in both official languages, which is essential.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Ms. DeBellefeuille.
The three measures that you have asked for are very reasonable and very important to the committee process. In fact, they are rigorously applied in the House. So there isl'affiliation doit être mise à jour no reason why they should not be applied to committees.
I noticed that the clerk was taking a lot of notes. We will see that you get answers and several solutions as soon as possible.
Are there any other comments?
I'll give the floor to Mr. MacKinnon, to be followed by Mr. Julian.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
I will not repeat what Ms. DeBellefeuille said, but I thank her for her persistence. It is important to stress that we are of the same mind. In fact, it is unacceptable to us, on the government side, that meetings are not held in both official languages, on an absolutely equal footing, and it is essential that all measures be respected, whether it be testing, the use of the right equipment, and the rest.
Please be aware that, on our side, we constantly remind our members to use the equipment that has been provided to us. As for the House administration, I am always impressed with their diligence in sending the right equipment. They respond very quickly when we call on them in this regard.
I think that corrections, whatever they may be, must be made until we have absolute parity in the use of both official languages in our institutions, in the House of Commons and in its committees.
Thank you, Ms. DeBellefeuille. Rest assured that we will support any measures that may be introduced to help us in this regard.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I also thank Ms. DeBellefeuille for raising these issues.
In fact, these are questions of respect for the employees of the House. The interpreters do a magnificent job, often in difficult situations in this time of pandemic, when we often have to work virtually. The least we can do is to ensure that all interpreters are treated well—they deserve it—and that occupational health and safety measures are respected.
The idea of having the same rules at committees and in the House seems the least we can do. We need to protect the interpreters' workplace to limit workplace accidents.
Before I was a member of Parliament, I ran a social enterprise that provided services to the hearing impaired in British Columbia. My wife, Limei, is an audiologist. So I know how it can cause permanent injury to interpreters if they don't have the proper equipment to protect their ears. This is serious.
I am disappointed that some members, even after two years of working in virtual mode, have not yet realized that they absolutely must use official headsets, which protect interpreters and improve the sound. I am also disappointed that the committee chairs do not understand that the same conditions must apply to all witnesses.
I think this is a good plan of action, which we will have to come back to in a few weeks if we find that we don't have the co‑operation of the committee chairs. On the other hand, we could agree now with the whips of all parties that if people are not using the official equipment to work virtually on Zoom, they cannot speak in committee. That way, I don't think any member will continue to disrespect our interpreters. So this condition should be implemented immediately, as it is common sense.
View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I don't think anybody at the table is going to disagree that we need to be as respectful and as gracious as we can be with those who serve us in our duties in the House of Commons, particularly our interpreters.
I, for one, am probably the only one at this table—maybe there's one another—who absolutely, fundamentally requires the use of interpretative services. I wouldn't be able to conduct my duties here because I am unilingual member of Parliament.
On behalf of the Conservative Party—a number of my colleagues would be as unilingual as me—I want to extend my appreciation to interpretative services for the great work they have done.
There's a relatively simple solution to some of the concerns being raised here today. Some of us have been here a very long time. That doesn't mean that people who have been here for a longer time have all of the answers. From about March 2006, when I first came to this place, until about March 2020, we didn't have this thing called hybrid or virtual Parliament. All the problems we're discussing here today are in part because we are trying to accommodate— and rightfully so—the issues pertaining to conducting the business of the nation through a COVID pandemic.
We have asked for some reconsideration as we move forward—as restrictions are getting lifted in various other jurisdictions, like in the province of Ontario where the nation's capital resides—of the restrictions we have here in the precinct.
Perhaps one thing that we can tie in to that review would be what the pros and cons are when it comes to workplace safety for those who serve us and our needs as parliamentarians. Perhaps that should be taken into consideration. Perhaps we should make sure that consideration is given a little more weight if it's actually creating frustrations and causing workplace incidents, hazards or injury.
In my recollection, we had very few of these issues prior to adopting a virtual or hybrid Parliament. While I completely understand the nature of wanting to protect staff, we also have, as members of Parliament, parliamentary privilege, which means that we actually do have the right to address the House. I think we will have significant issues if we decide to challenge members' abilities to address the House even though we can prescribe the rules in which we do that. Look, we even have rules on what we can and can't wear in order to speak in the House of Commons. I have to wear a jacket and a tie, so a headset is not an unreasonable thing, but there could be potential challenges to that.
Members of Parliament are extremely busy individuals. We travel at great length. It's not inconceivable that somebody might find themselves delayed by a flight or by any other means and want to participate in their regular duties, thinking that the headset they left at their office would be replaced by the one at their home or their other office and got waylaid in between.
We can pack these things around. That's understandable. We have had things like teleconference before as well. I remember numerous teleconferences at committees where we didn't actually have video availability.
As long as we meet the needs of the staff, the communications equipment and the technology, I think we can proceed, but I can assure you that on behalf of the Conservative Party, I will be revisiting this issue with our caucus and making sure that people are using the equipment they ought to be using. It has been clear. We do have two years of experience in doing this.
The solution to me, colleagues, is quite simple. Let's start a plan moving forward to de-normalize hybrid or virtual Parliament and get back to the way things were two years ago. The vast majority of the problems we're talking about here today will simply disappear.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I wish to endorse the comments of Mr. MacKinnon and Mr. Julian to support Ms. DeBellefeuille's suggestion. I am concerned by this as well.
It is a bit embarrassing that after two years some of our colleagues do not feel the obligation to be well equipped to participate in debates and committees for whatever reason. As Mr. Julian said, it is not only a vital issue for the safety and health of our interpreters, but it is also a vital issue of respect for our colleagues, who must understand the discussions. I think Mr. Calkins has just made that point.
Mr. Speaker, I therefore suggest that the Board of Internal Economy remain seized of this matter and that, when the time is right in your judgment and in the judgment of the clerk, you give us an update, as Ms. DeBellefeuille has suggested. I don't want us to discuss this today only to discover in four or eight weeks' time that is has not been resolved in a much more rigorous way.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I thank my colleagues, who are willing to work together to help us improve.
I would like to put a brief question to Mr. McDonald.
Representatives of sign language interpreters have told us that for some meetings they do not have access to the written documents of witnesses or ministers that our interpreters have access to. Yet this would allow them to do their job more easily.
Is it for security reasons that they are not given the texts in question so that they can interpret in sign language?
I think that the Translation Bureau does not hire this kind of interpreter. So I would like to take advantage of Mr. MacDonald's presence to get an answer to this question.
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2022-02-17 12:13
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
That's a good question.
We don't have a lot of experience in this respect. However, I believe that sign language interpretation was provided for all meetings on the study of Bill C‑81 during the 42nd Parliament.
I don't believe that we had issues providing the documents at that time. We provide documents to the interpretation service, which is responsible for making them available to all interpreters, including sign language interpreters.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
What representatives of this group have told us is that they requested documents. Perhaps they didn't ask the right person. Should sign language interpreters who want the hearing impaired to have access to debates address their request to the translation bureau or the clerk's office?
Which is the better option?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2022-02-17 12:14
We will take a look at the issue.
To my knowledge, we already provide documents to the interpretation service, which is responsible for all interpreters who support the work of committees.
Your next witnesses may have more information on the subject, and we will be able to provide you with additional information. We would be very glad to examine the issue to ensure that it is resolved. That being said, to my knowledge, we have always provided documents to the interpretation service.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you.
I think that I came through loud and clear. I have noted the solidarity of my colleagues around the table, who also seem to want the situation to improve.
Nevertheless, I would like to highlight that it's about not just allowing members to understand what is said, but also allowing witnesses to provide testimony. In this respect, each of the whips around the table has work to do, and I would say that the lion's share of the work falls on the government whip, since members of the government are usually the ones to chair meetings.
I know that Mr. MacKinnon will do everything necessary to raise the awareness of his members who chair committees so that they are more attentive, because it seems very clear today that we want things to improve, not just for members, but also for witnesses.
View John Brassard Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I note that the House has become even more responsive over the course of the pandemic, and the virtual hybrid sittings, in supplying different types of resources not just to members of Parliament consistently but also to witnesses. I have seen an improvement in that.
Through you, Chair, Mr. Calkins talked about March 2020, and the fact that we had started moving to a virtual hybrid system. We've seen a marked increase in interpreters suffering from hearing problems as a result of this.
In advance of 2020, how many cases would we have typically dealt with proportional to what we're seeing right now in terms of the number of interpreters being impacted and affected by the hybrid Parliament? I suspect that it certainly wasn't the same as in an in-person Parliament.
Do you have any idea of what those numbers are, for workplace injuries as they relate to pre- and post-hybrid?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2022-02-17 12:17
I believe the interpretation service representatives will be able to deal with that question momentarily for you.
View John Brassard Profile
CPC (ON)
The reason I am asking is because it is relevant to the discussions we are having as they relate to this transitional plan of moving forward, restricting some of the measures that Mr. Calkins talked about, and eventually, I hope, returning to a normal Parliament.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Very good.
I'm not seeing any more questions.
I would just point out to all parties that perhaps they want to ask their members to check their emails. I sent out an email yesterday, it just so happens, on best practices when using virtual meetings. It's just to highlight that they would want to check that out and follow that, and make sure they're following that to a tee, because any deviation from that really makes it difficult for people.
Again, it comes down to this. I know we take things for granted sometimes. We say, “Oh well, I'm caught in my car. I'll just use my phone.” It will cause problems for someone who is interpreting, so please follow those guidelines for those best practices.
I realize that sometimes it can't be done. We just had one case where one of the members could not use the headset, and they made arrangements. What ended up happening was they got him a microphone and speakers, and everything worked well, but the microphone wasn't working well enough for the interpreters.
A simple solution would have been getting the speakers working other than in the headset, and he'd wear the headset and use the microphone on the headset. This was not working. The speakers were working, but the microphone wasn't, so sometimes something simple like that really covers that area.
If there are any problems, please contact our technical people, because they have been very diligent and trying their best. Believe me, they are bending over backwards. I have to compliment our technical team for trying to make it so the interpreters do well.
I know what it's like to try to translate. I've done some in the past, nothing to the extent of what they're doing, and they're keeping up with what they're doing.
It's not always easy to listen to what is being said and then interpret into another language. In fact, it's very difficult, and we really appreciate the efforts undertaken by interpreters to allow Parliament to continue its work.
We will now move on to the third item, entitled translation bureau - resources utilization for simultaneous interpretation.
Our witnesses today are Ms. Lucie Séguin and Mr. Matthew Ball.
We'll let them get set up.
Ms. Séguin will start.
You have the floor, Ms. Séguin.
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-02-17 12:20
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank the members of the Board of Internal Economy for this invitation. With me today is Matthew Ball, vice‑president, services to parliament and interpretation, translation bureau.
I would first like to acknowledge that I am speaking to you from the traditional unceded territory of the Anishnaabeg people in the beautiful city of Ottawa. It's a pleasure for us to be here today to provide an update on the interpretation services that the translation bureau provides to the House of Commons and its committees, not only in both official languages, but also in indigenous languages, foreign languages and sign languages.
Although interpreters work primarily behind the scenes, they play a crucial role, as mentioned earlier during this meeting. They ensure that parliamentarians and Canadians can follow the proceedings in Parliament and participate fully in the democratic life of our country. It is a job that interpreters do with a great deal of pride, and I want to really pay tribute to their dedication.
I would like to recognize Cécilia, Christine and Sharon, who are in the booth for today's meeting.
Honourable members, as you know, interpreting is a demanding and complex task, and you have mentioned this. It requires very precise technical conditions to be performed safely, particularly with regard to sound quality. As interpreters speak and listen at the same time, sound quality is very important to them. At the end of the day, interpreters cannot work if they cannot hear.
I would like to make it clear that the translation bureau, as you know, is not responsible for the technical aspects of providing interpretation services. That is the responsibility of our clients, including the House of Commons administration. That said, we collaborate closely with our clients to ensure that interpreters work in conditions that are safe and conducive to high‑quality interpretation.
However, these conditions are sometimes lacking when participants are remote—and you gave a number of examples of this today. Remote interpretation has become the norm, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic. The pandemic has led to the widespread use of virtual sessions and has completely redefined the working environment for interpreters, resulting in an increase in reports of health and safety incidents related to sound quality among interpreters. I can assure you that health and safety is a priority for the translation bureau and the Government of Canada, and I see today that this is also the case for the honourable members of Parliament.
Even before the pandemic began, the translation bureau had started taking steps to protect interpreters during meetings with remote participants. We have since strengthened these measures with the help of our partners, including the House administration and the associations representing interpreters. There is no quick fix for the challenges of virtual sessions. However, some measures have improved conditions since the spring of 2020.
For example, as you have mentioned, Parliament provides members of Parliament, senators and parliamentary committee witnesses with headsets that have one-way microphones. I sincerely thank you, on behalf of all interpreters, for diligently using this equipment. I can also see that you are taking health and safety very seriously, which is commendable.
Furthermore, since February 7, we have required that participants in virtual sessions hosted by Government of Canada departments and agencies use a proper microphone, as you do. We have instructed our interpreters not to interpret contributions from participants who do not meet this requirement. This directive applies to our clients in federal departments and agencies, because here, at Parliament, we can see that habits are changing for the better. This will therefore not apply to Parliament. However, we encourage parliamentarians to continue adopting the recommended practices.
Other successful measures include continuing to implement reduced work hours for virtual sessions without a reduction in pay. As well, we have increased staff scheduled for each virtual session to allow interpreters to take more frequent breaks. Of course, these measures increase the number of interpreters required for each session.
As is the case in many other professions, there is a shortage of interpreters around the world, including in Canada. The translation bureau is the largest employer of interpreters in Canada. It has 64 official languages interpreters on permanent staff.
We are also fortunate to be able to rely on freelance interpreters, but even in the private sector capacity is limited. Sixty freelance interpreters are currently helping us serve Parliament, but their availability varies depending on the demands of their other clients.
This means that we have to be very agile in matching our offers with the needs of Parliament and our other clients. Fortunately, we can count on the co-operation of the House of Commons as well as Senate administration to anticipate needs and allocate resources according to priorities.
Please rest assured that we are making every effort to improve our ability to continue to provide you with the quality language services that you deserve.
We are actively collaborating right now with the only two Canadian universities that offer the master's in interpretation program. We're also actively engaged in helping ensure a strong succession, loaning them our seasoned interpreters to teach courses and to help students prepare for our accreditation tests.
We are also constantly looking to expand our pool of freelancers. Furthermore, we are vigorously pursuing our research projects with top hearing specialists in Canada and abroad in order to make evidence-based decisions in the implementation of optimal protective measures for interpreters.
Among other things the National Research Council of Canada has confirmed that the interpreter consoles in the House of Commons and committee rooms provide excellent protection against acoustic shock. However, tests have revealed that the sound reaching interpreters in booths during virtual proceedings is of lower quality than that reaching remote participants. We are actively exploring possible solutions with the House of Commons administration.
Honourable members, I would like to thank you and all of your fellow members of Parliament for your co-operation and your concern for the health and safety of our interpreters, staff and freelance.
I would also like to extend a big thank you to the staff at the House of Commons for their constant support and active involvement in the search for solutions to make the work of our interpreters safe and easier.
My colleague Matthew and I are now ready and happy to take questions.
Thank you very much.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I had the honour to work and collaborate with Ms. Séguin and Mr. Ball in a previous life, as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement.
Having followed the evolution of this file and the status of the translation bureau, I am convinced of the great dedication of everyone, from Ms. Séguin to the deputy minister, by way of each and every employee of the translation bureau. The bureau, as an institution, has existed for 87 years now. In fact, it is one of the oldest government institutions in Canada. It is truly a centre of excellence, which employs some 1,600 people, if memory serves.
I am not here to sing the praises of its employees, but I know that they are very proud of the work they do. In my opinion, it's important to highlight that it is a great institution that serves all Canadians and shines around the world.
We have been politely reminded of the burden imposed on the translation bureau when it receives requests for documents that are not necessarily directed to the right place. However, that is not the subject of today's meeting.
I invite my colleagues to exercise greater care when developing and drafting requests for documents. Out of a desire to not miss anything, a large number of documents unrelated to the request are often included, which puts incredible pressure on the already limited resources of the translation bureau.
We knew it already, but Ms. Séguin just reminded us that needs are greatest and the demand is highest for interpreters, especially in this era of virtual work. I know that great efforts are being made to attract people to this profession. We have a duty to thank the interpreters, as we often do. In my opinion, it's obvious that more work needs to be done to attract people to this profession and to the translation bureau.
Ms. Séguin, you spoke about university partnerships. As we know, when there is a labour shortage, everything must be done to address it.
Could you tell us a bit more about what needs to be done to attract more people to the professions of interpretation and translation?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-02-17 12:33
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
As Mr. MacKinnon mentioned, the translation bureau is the largest employer of translators and interpreters in Canada. Furthermore, we take this responsibility very seriously. We work with all Canadian educational institutions that offer interpretation, translation and terminology programs.
In addition to our specific partnerships with York University, Glendon College and the University of Ottawa, which offer master's degrees in interpretation, we also have a partnership with the Canadian Association of Schools of Translation, which comprises 10 Canadian universities.
We therefore have collaborative training programs, both for interpretation and translation, where we offer young interpreters and young aspiring translators the opportunity to gain concrete experience. This experience counts as credits toward their bachelor's degree or diploma.
On the interpretation side of things, there are three to five graduates annually. With York University and the University of Ottawa, we have frequent discussions about ways of attracting young people to the profession of interpretation.
We hire basically all of the students who graduate, as long as they meet the translation bureau's very rigorous quality criteria. We offer them employment, and we are always seeking to collaborate with other educational institutions, in Canada and elsewhere, to increase staffing.
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