Canada’s Board of Internal Economy (BOIE), which manages finances for the House of Commons, has approved a six-month pilot project that allows the use of “external” and “remote” interpreters for parliamentary sessions. The pilot project enables the House of Commons to hire freelance interpreters directly, excluding the government’s own Translation Bureau.
The Translation Bureau is in charge of qualifying and staffing official accredited translators, interpreters and terminologists, and shared the news on a recent briefing with interpreters, including members of Canada’s chapter of the International Association of Conference interpreters (AIIC). Many AIIC members regularly work at Parliamentary Hill and expressed concern over the government’s move in a press release dated July 19, 2022.
The BOIE approved the pilot project on May 19, 2022 and it commenced third week of July.
Nicole Gagnon, AIIC member and advocacy lead for government interpreters in Canada, told Slator that she and her colleagues understand the need to solve the shortage of interpreters. However, this should not be done at the expense of rigor and quality, she said, ignoring standards that work and had taken a long time to put in place.
“For over five years, interpreters have been asking the government to invest in interpreter training programs and efficient recruitment and scheduling systems,” Gagnon said, all of which she believes would have prevented the interpreter shortage. “Nothing has been done,” she added, and instead of a viable solution the government is resorting to what she called “a quick fix.”
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Gagnon added, “Preserving high standards when qualifying interpreters will maintain the trust that members of parliament and the Canadian people have placed in the Translation Bureau as the agency responsible for enforcing Canada’s Official Languages Act.”
She also mentioned that this pilot project is just another in a sequence of working condition grievances for interpreters. Among them, over-scheduling before Covid and hearing problems, which those affected attributed to the use of remote interpreting systems during and after the pandemic.
On that subject, Gagnon told Slator that “Interpreters are not against the technology used in remote sessions so long as it meets quality standards and is used in a way that makes sense, such as for small meetings, not large parliamentary sessions.”
The pushback on the use of external freelance and remote interpreters in Canada is the latest in a wave of interpreter protests about working conditions at government bodies, including those in the United Nations and European Parliament.