Canada’s Translation Bureau Proposes AI to Increase Productivity

Canada's Translation Bureau proposes using AI to address backlog

According to a report by Radio Canada from May 3, 2024, the work of Parliament is sometimes delayed or even suspended as a result of the backlog in translations between English and French. The report gave as an example the work of the parliamentary committee studying appeals to the Trudeau government’s emergency measures law, which has been stalled for nearly a year (the documents have not been sent to the Translation Bureau yet).

According to the report, when Jean-François Lymburner, CEO of the Translation Bureau was summoned by Parliament in February 2024 to discuss the situation with the emergency measures law committee, he stated that the agency is operating at full capacity and is difficult to meet demand. 

Lymburner stated in the parliamentary session that despite having about 100 translators dedicated to parliamentary translation and outsourcing approximately half of the business volume, translating all the documents for the case on which he was summoned “would take several years of work for the translation bureau.” Lymburner further declared “We’re looking at the possibility to use [sic] automation or artificial intelligence” to increase productivity.

In Radio Canada’s report, Canada’s Commissioner of Official Languages Raymond Théberge said about the use of AI in translation that “We want to make sure that the use of these tools does not replace the real use of both official languages … Will one language be translated only, versus the other language, especially French?”

In the same report, Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Official Languages, is heard responding to Théberge’s apprehensions saying “I will always ensure that translations are done to the highest quality. I take on board the Commissioner’s concerns.”

AI-Enabled Translation Addressed in Official Documents

It is not known what will happen next with official translations and AI, but as of May 8, 2024, the government of Canada’s official “Guide on the Use of Generative AI” does identify translation as one of the tasks AI can help “perform or support.”

The Guide categorizes the use of AI in such tasks as needing context and assessment based on business value, and cautions that its use “is more likely to yield transitory information.”

In a separate web document dated April 24, 2024, the Translation Bureau makes recommendations for machine translation use. The document lists the appropriate uses for machine translation as information that isn’t protected or classified, text that is not specialized, texts for which “the potential presence of translation errors won’t have any consequences, including non-compliance with the Official Languages Act,” and text that won’t be distributed or will be edited before distribution.