House looking into Indigenous interpretation in the Commons
Simultaneous translation is currently only available for English and French on a regular basis.
Published Thursday, December 14, 2017 1:05PM EST
Last Updated Friday, December 15, 2017 10:29AM EST
OTTAWA – In 2018 a committee of MPs will be studying the potential of introducing simultaneous Indigenous interpretation in the House of Commons.
"We are going to do a study on the potential of having aboriginal languages in the House," Procedure and House Affairs Committee chair Liberal MP Larry Bagnell told CTV News.
The question of including Indigenous interpretation was first raised in June, by Winnipeg Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette.
In May in the House of Commons, Ouellette made a statement in the Cree language of Nehiyo, which was not able to be translated for his colleagues, because simultaneous interpretation is only available for English and French on a regular basis.
Ouellette said he provided the interpretation services with 48 hours' advance notice. He argued that the inability for the House of Commons to accommodate his request to have the comments translated made him feel silenced, and said that his privilege as an MP had been violated.
Currently, though, interpretation has been provided for foreign visitors on occasion.
There are more than 70 Indigenous languages currently spoken in Canada, and according to the 2016 census, 260,550 people reported being able to speak an Indigenous language well enough to carry a conversation.
In his June 20 ruling on Ouellette's question of privilege, Speaker of the House of Commons Geoff Regan said that while the current interpretation offerings may not be ideal for all, he didn’t think Ouellette was prevented from doing his job as an MP.
Regan said that while MPs are not prohibited from speaking another language, "given the current technical limitations and the configuration of physical space in the Chamber for interpretation services" if an MP wants to speak in a language other than Canada's two official languages, full interpretation and correct attribution in Hansard is only possible if the member repeats their comments in English or French.
He suggested the matter be referred to the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, which handles issues pertaining to the rules and administration of the House of Commons.
"The issue raised by the Member for Winnipeg Centre speaks to the very core of what Members need when they come to this Chamber; that is, not only to be free to speak, but also to be understood," said Regan in his ruling.
The committee will study the question when the House reconvenes next year.
Bagnell said that they'll likely get to it once they complete their current study on the creation of an independent commissioner for federal leaders’ debates.
"We will call witnesses and see what’s done elsewhere and then decide, make recommendations to the House on what might be done," Bagnell said.
Once the committee completes its study it will offer its recommendation to the House of Commons on whether or not simultaneous indigenous interpretation should be provided.
While changes to the rules of the House don't require unanimous consent, it’s preferred that all sides agree before major modifications to House procedures are made.
Despite the question of whether or not Indigenous interpretation will happen, preparations are already being made to enhance the House of Commons’ interpretation services.
As part of the planning for the interim West Block House of Commons chamber, a third translation booth is being added.
MPs will move in to the West Block chamber in the fall 2018, while Centre Block undergoes a decade of renovations.
The booth will be set up to accommodate "broader interpretation requirements," such as translation for special addresses and appearances from foreign dignitaries, said Heather Bradley, spokesperson for the Speaker, in an email to CTV News.