Shortage and auditory injuries of interpreters disrupt parliamentary proceedings

In a report presented to the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons by the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) in April 2022, it is stated that about ten of the approximately 60 interpreters are unavailable or not fully available to interpret, in particular due to injuries caused by the poor quality of the audio when carrying out their work.

The vice-president of the union, André Picotte, does not go through four ways to explain the situation: essentially, there are interpreters who have had enough who ask to be reassigned to translation tasks and otherwise, there are interpreters who leave the Translation Bureau.

Over the past three years, 12 interpreters have retired. The Translation Bureau was able to hire only nine for the same period.

This shortage of manpower at the Translation Bureau, combined with the number of interpreters who have suffered hearing injuries, is disrupting the work of certain committees and, by extension, of certain parliamentarians.

A few MPs look at a screen showing Justin Trudeau.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat virtually when the House of Commons resumed work in 2021 (archives).

Photo: The Canadian Press/Justin Tang

The Bloc Québécois whip, Claude de Bellefeuille, is one of the parliamentarians whose work is currently disrupted by the cancellation of committees, when putting the final touches to her files before the end of the session.

Today [mardi, NDLR]there are five committees [qui sont annulés] Why? Because there is no technological space or interpreter to take more she says.

Already in 2019, the Translation Bureau was looking for solutions, when there were serious hearing problems among federal interpreters.

The President and CEO of Public Services and Procurement Canada’s Translation Bureau, Lucie Séguin, says her team has also collaborated with colleagues from the House of Commons to advise the purchase of consoles that protect the hearing health of interpreters, also the distribution of equipment such as headsets with integrated microphones.

A laptop shows a video conference with many people participating.

Often, in 2020, there were nearly 300 federal deputies to virtually attend the work of the House of Commons (archives).

Photo: Radio-Canada / Sebastien Tanguay

Even if solutions have been put forward to solve the problem, the situation is pressing according to Conservative Senator Claude Carignan.

If we want to solve the problem, we have to hire; one must be more attractive; we have to take care of these people so that we can function. It is not normal that Parliament, at the moment, is affected in its functioningsays the senator.

For his part, the Chief Government Whip, Steven MacKinnon, underlines that his office continues to “work closely with the administration of the House to ensure that interpretation services are available”.

L’CAPE asks the federal Minister of Public Services and Procurement, Filomena Tassi, who is also responsible for the Translation Bureau, to intervene in order to settle for good the problem of equipment that is causing hearing injuries to its members.

In the meantime, members of Parliament, like Bloc Québécois Claude de Bellefeuille, are increasingly sensitive to the well-being of these shadow workers.

We – the French-speaking MPs – without them, we cannot do our job. Me, what I say cannot be interpreted. Interpreters are our eyes and ears, we need them argues the MP.

With information from Alexandra Angers and Mohamed Tiéné

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