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


April 30, 2024

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 are a priority for the Translation Bureau.

Over 10 years ago, in step with the increasing use of teleconferencing and videoconferencing in the Government of Canada, interpreters started reporting symptoms after providing simultaneous interpretation at these remote meetings. In 2015, the Translation Bureau put together a working group to manage this activity, and in April 2019 it developed requirements for taking part remotely in interpreted meetings. According to the requirements, simultaneous interpretation could not be done using sound transmitted over the telephone since it did not comply with the ISO standard for simultaneous interpretation and caused health and safety issues.

At the time, the Translation Bureau had already begun taking steps with sound and hearing experts to better understand and prevent risks to interpreters. When the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs studied the implementation of virtual Parliament in spring 2020, the Translation Bureau was already well positioned to make firm recommendations to protect interpreters.

Since then, and drawing inspiration from the many study reports it has obtained and lessons learned from consultations abroad, the Translation Bureau has continued to work and innovate to ensure the health and safety of interpreters, in cooperation with its partners, including Parliament and associations representing interpreters. The many measures put in place have substantially reduced the number and seriousness of acoustic incidents. For example:

  • interpretation consoles designed to protect hearing are being 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 position of Director, Parliamentary Affairs and Interpreter Well-being has been staffed to ensure the effectiveness and observance of protective measures and work with partners to devise and launch new initiatives
  • independent experts and specialized laboratories are performing tests and compiling data on sound transmitted to interpreters to inform decision making
  • interpreters have been directed to interrupt service at any time if the sound quality is insufficient or in the case of an acoustic incident

Nevertheless, the Translation Bureau is still very concerned about incidents that continue to arise. It is determined to pursue efforts to better understand and prevent sound-related risks for interpreters. It has adopted a continuous improvement program, which it keeps updated in light of new knowledge, technological advancement and the changing situation on the ground. In 2024, this plan includes:

  • a Western University study on the perceived quality of sound in the House of Commons
  • a Laval University study on the amount of sound (dosimetry) that interpreters receive
  • the final report of a University of Ottawa evaluation on changes in the hearing health of interpreters over two years

As usual, the Translation Bureau will take action in keeping with the recommendations made by the experts in these reports.

Directions from the Labour Program

In February 2023, the Labour Program, Employment and Social Development Canada, issued two directions to the Translation Bureau ordering it to make the use of microphones that are compliant with the ISO standard mandatory and to conduct tests of the audiovisual systems of committee rooms. Thanks to work that pre dated the directions, the Translation Bureau was able to take effective action, and on August 25, 2023, the Labour Program closed the file.

On April 25, 2024, in the wake of a case where interpreters experienced the Larsen effect (sharp, sudden feedback), the Labour Program issued a new direction to the Translation Bureau, ordering that interpreters be protected from exposure to the Larsen effect.

In a work environment where complex and diverse audio equipment is used, the Larsen effect is always a possibility and the Translation Bureau takes this possibility and its consequences for interpreters very seriously. 

Cases of the Larsen effect are primarily due to human error in handling equipment, and the Translation Bureau was already working with its parliamentary partners to prevent these errors. As a result, additional measures were quickly put in place to respond to the Labour Program’s direction. For instance:

  • the headsets used to hear interpretation have been replaced with models that afford better protection against the Larsen effect near an open microphone
  • the space between microphones in committee rooms has been increased, in keeping with the rooms’ setup, to avoid audio feedback between the audio equipment of a participant and that of their neighbour
  • the instructions given to people attending in person concerning what precautions must be taken to prevent the Larsen effect have been improved

On April 26, 2024, the Labour Program accepted the measures put in place.

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:

  • is working with Canadian language sector stakeholders to promote the profession of conference interpretation
  • has signed partnership agreements with the only two Canadian universities offering a master’s degree in conference interpretation (University of Ottawa and York University) to support the teaching of interpretation
  • generally extends job offers to new official languages interpreters who graduate from these universities
  • is in talks with other universities to increase the number of interpretation programs
  • administers its accreditation exam for official languages interpreters twice a year
  • generally extends job offers or freelance contracts to interpreters who pass its accreditation exam
  • conducts a call for tenders every two years to renew its pool of interpreters under an open contract
  • 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

Page details

Date modified: