Statement from Public Services and Procurement Canada’s Translation Bureau on interpretation services
January 27, 2021
The mandate of Public Services and Procurement Canada's Translation Bureau is to provide quality linguistic services to Canada's democratic institutions. It works closely with the administration of the House of Commons and the Senate, federal departments and agencies, and other partners, such as private sector interpreters, to provide interpretation of parliamentary and government proceedings, including virtual sessions.
The technical aspects related to the interpretation of the various sessions are the responsibility of their organizers and not of the Translation Bureau, whose responsibility is limited to linguistic services. Interpretation work requires very specific technical conditions to be performed safely, particularly with respect to sound quality. These conditions are sometimes lacking when participating remotely, which has led to an initial increase in reports of health and safety incidents related to sound quality at the beginning of the pandemic.
Health and safety is a priority for the Translation Bureau, and it is making every effort to protect both its staff interpreters and its private sector interpreters. Even before the start of the pandemic, the Translation Bureau had begun to take measures to protect interpreters at meetings involving remote participants, such as providing them with external sound limiters. These measures have been strengthened since virtual sessions became the norm.
Among other things, the Translation Bureau is constantly making its clients aware of the measures to be taken to promote the quality of interpretation and the protection of interpreters. In particular, it has recommended to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that precautions be taken to mitigate the risks during virtual meetings, precautions that the Committee included in its report to the House of Commons in May 2020, namely that:
- participants use headsets with an integrated microphone to improve sound quality;
- participants use videoconference to allow interpreters to see their facial expressions and adjust their tone;
- a technician is present with the interpreters at all times;
- sound checks are conducted ahead of meetings;
- participants provide written statements to interpreters in advance when possible; and
- participants use a hard-wired internet connection.
In addition, in order to reflect the increased effort required to interpret virtual sessions, the Translation Bureau has reduced the working hours of the interpreters assigned to these sessions without reducing their compensation; currently, these interpreters provide an average of three hours of interpretation per day. The Translation Bureau has also increased the number of interpreters per session to allow them to take breaks. At all times, interpreters are instructed to interrupt the service if working conditions jeopardize their health.
The Translation Bureau is also developing a hearing protection standard for interpreters, with the support of health and safety experts from Public Services and Procurement Canada and external audiologists. This new standard includes measures to reduce the risk of acoustic incidents and provides for the training of interpreters.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, no staff interpreters at the Translation Bureau reported permanent hearing loss, and none are currently on sick leave. Measures implemented by the Translation Bureau have since led to a decrease in the number of reported incidents.
In addition, the Translation Bureau is continuing some research projects that began before March 2020 and has launched others to gather evidence and find solutions to interpreter-related issues. For example:
- The Translation Bureau has received promising preliminary results from the National Research Council of Canada confirming that sound levels in Parliament do not exceed federal noise exposure regulations;
- The National Research Council of Canada has tested a new hearing protection device, an active limiter capable of protecting interpreters from acoustic shock and measuring their daily exposure to sound levels in order to avoid exceeding the daily dose; and
- The Translation Bureau launched an empirical research project with the University of Geneva in Switzerland on fatigue and mental load during remote interpretation.
Finally, in collaboration with the Translation Bureau, the Parliament of Canada has replaced all of its interpretation consoles with ISO-compliant models equipped with built-in limiters. In addition, to improve sound quality during virtual sittings, Parliament has provided headsets with built-in microphones to members of Parliament and senators, and sends them to witnesses appearing before parliamentary committees.
The Translation Bureau recognizes the risks as real. It is committed to continuing its efforts to protect the health and safety of its interpreters.
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