Skip to main content

Parliament Hill interpreters concerned over translation quality if feds hire non-accredited staff


Parliamentary interpreters say the quality of translation and health of bilingual debate in the House of Commons could suffer if the government follows through on its plan to bring in non-accredited interpreters.

The House Administration, which oversees financial and administrative policy relating to the House of Commons, plans to bring in freelance interpreters, who are not accredited by the Translation Bureau of Canada, until the end of the fall session as part of a pilot project to help meet the demand for translators, amid an apparent shortage.

A new survey of 92 interpreters who are qualified to work for the federal government’s Translation Bureau shows nearly three quarters of those without an open contract have not been asked to take on that work.

Hill interpreters are tasked with live translating parliamentary business, including debates in the House of Commons and committee meetings, as well as translating all documentation, including bills, acts, correspondence, and reports.

And the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) states a House of Commons plan to recruit freelance interpreters without Translation Bureau accreditation to meet the needs will reduce the quality of service, therefore risking the level of bilingual debate.

“The House of Commons is creating a ‘B’ team of interpreters who have not proven they meet the high-quality standards required until now in Parliament,” said AIIC-Canada spokesperson Nicole Gagnon, in a release by the organization Wednesday.

Gagnon called the decision by House administration “misguided,” and said there are several “inefficiencies” that need to be resolved.

She added no credible institution, including the United Nations and the European Parliament, would bring on freelance interpreters who have not sat an exam, as the Canadian government’s pilot project would allow.

The AIIC survey shows that despite an apparent challenge by the Translation Bureau to meet interpretation needs, only some accredited interpreters have been offered Parliamentary assignments in the last six months.

“There are many accredited freelancers who are ready, willing and better able to serve in Parliament,” Gagnon said. “The House of Commons is needlessly jeopardizing the quality of bilingual discourse of its proceedings by bringing in suppliers who are not qualified by Translation Bureau standards.”

Public Services and Procurement Canada, which umbrellas the Translation Bureau, says the House Administration makes decisions about resources, including how many interpreters are needed and where.

Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesperson Michèle LaRose wrote in an email to Wednesday that the agency works exclusively with accredited interpreters, and prioritizes those with open contracts.

“To be given an assignment with Parliament, accredited freelance interpreters must have the necessary security clearance and be willing to travel if they are located outside the National Capital Region,” LaRose wrote.

The Translation Bureau was not immediately available for comment.

Meanwhile the House voted in June to continue its hybrid model — which allows MPs to participate in House debates and committee meetings virtually, and vote from anywhere in Canada — but parliamentary interpreters say the system causes them issues.

Many have voiced concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic that the sound quality while working on a hybrid model has impacted their work and caused workplace injuries.

The AIIC survey shows more than two thirds of respondents rated the working conditions in virtual Parliament to be either average or below average, specifically when it comes to their quality of service.

And while half the interpreters surveyed who have worked in Parliament in the past say they’re unlikely to take a job that doesn’t involve them working in person on the Hill, three quarters of them say they’re concerned about sound quality on the Hill. More than half of respondents say they’ve reduced the number of assignments they accept on the Hill for that reason.




opinion Don Martin: How a beer break may have doomed the carbon tax hike

When the Liberal government chopped a planned beer excise tax hike to two per cent from 4.5 per cent and froze future increases until after the next election, says political columnist Don Martin, it almost guaranteed a similar carbon tax move in the offing. Top Stories

Local Spotlight

Stay Connected