Statement from Public Services and Procurement Canada’s Translation Bureau on interpretation services


October 12, 2023

The mandate of Public Services and Procurement Canada’s Translation Bureau is to provide quality linguistic services, including interpretation services, to Parliament and federal departments and agencies. In collaboration with its partners, including session organizers (who are responsible for the technical aspects of interpretation), the Translation Bureau continues to innovate and to draw on expert advice and best practices in Canada and abroad to provide optimal service to its clients and optimal protection to its interpreters.

Interpreter health and safety

Occupational health and safety is the Translation Bureau’s priority. In collaboration with its partners, including Parliament, the associations representing interpreters and sound and hearing experts, the Bureau has long worked to address sound-related incidents that may affect interpreters during virtual or hybrid meetings. The measures it has taken to date have improved the situation. For example:

  • interpretation consoles designed to prevent acoustic shock are used
  • a technician is assigned to each meeting with simultaneous interpretation
  • anyone speaking virtually in a meeting with simultaneous interpretation is required to use a microphone that meets the ISO standard for simultaneous interpretation; otherwise, what they say will not be interpreted
  • the new position of Director, Parliamentary Affairs and Interpreter Well-being, has been created to implement incident prevention and management protocols, ensure the effectiveness of protective measures and work with partners to launch new occupational health and safety initiatives
  • the National Research Council of Canada, independent experts and specialized laboratories are performing tests and compiling data on sound transmitted to interpreters
  • the University of Ottawa is conducting hearing health assessments for interpreters to establish baseline data and has recommended best practices for preventing and managing acoustic incidents
  • the University of Western Ontario is looking into sound quality and listening effort
  • interpreters have been directed to interrupt service at any time if the sound quality is insufficient

The Translation Bureau is determined to continue its efforts to better understand and prevent sound-related risks for interpreters, with a view to continuous improvement.

End of directions from the Labour Program

Following a complaint filed on January 31, 2022, by the Canadian Association of Professional Employees under the Canada Labour Code, the Translation Bureau received, on February 1, 2023, two directions from Employment and Social Development Canada’s Labour Program. In collaboration with its partners, the Bureau complied as follows with these directions, which were in line with efforts already being made to protect interpreters:

  1. Ensure that the interpretation work is done only when virtual participants are wearing an ISO-compliant microphone:

    This measure, which had been mandatory for government meetings since February 7, 2022, was generally followed in Parliament, but was officially made mandatory on February 6, 2023. Protocols have been put in place to ensure that meeting organizers confirm microphone compliance ahead of each meeting, and interpreters have been directed to interpret only if they explicitly receive this confirmation.

  2. Commission random tests in work situations in parliamentary committee rooms and implement experts’ recommendations:

    Two series of tests were conducted in April and May 2023. Acoustics and audiology experts from the National Research Council of Canada, the University of Western Ontario and the University of Ottawa analyzed the data. They found no risk of damage to the interpreters’ hearing and no observable difference between the sound of on-site and virtual participants. Nevertheless, they recommended a series of preventive measures and suggested other lines of research.

On August 25, 2023, the Labour Program declared that the Translation Bureau had taken the necessary measures to comply with the Canada Labour Code and the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations as per the directions, and it closed the file.

The Bureau will follow up on all the recommendations from experts, several of which have already been implemented. It will continue relying on its evidence-based approach to protection and will explore new lines of research suggested by experts to shed light on this recent issue that the scientific community has just begun to examine.

Interpretation capacity

Occupational health and safety incidents, the global interpreter shortage and increased demand in recent years have disrupted the Translation Bureau’s interpretation capacity. Committed to increasing its capacity, the Translation Bureau:

  • works with Canadian language sector stakeholders to promote the profession of conference interpretation
  • signed partnership agreements with the only 2 Canadian universities offering a master’s degree in conference interpretation (University of Ottawa and York University) to support the teaching of interpretation
  • extends job offers to all new official languages interpreters who graduate from these universities
  • explores other universities’ interest in offering an interpretation program
  • has increased the frequency of its accreditation exam for official languages interpreters to twice a year
  • extends job offers or freelance contracts to all interpreters who pass its accreditation exam
  • conducts a call for tenders every 2 years to renew its pool of interpreters under an open contract
  • explores recruitment opportunities abroad
  • with the House of Commons Administration, is testing the provision of interpretation by interpreters located off the parliamentary premises, enabling it to use freelancers located outside the National Capital Region to meet Parliament’s needs

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