Mr. Chair, committee members, good morning.
I'd like to begin by acknowledging that we are meeting on the traditional territories of the Algonquin nation.
Thank you for inviting me to appear before this committee to talk about the use of indigenous languages in House of Commons proceedings.
My name is Stéphan Déry and I am the Chief Executive Officer of the Translation Bureau. Here with me is my colleague, Matthew Ball, Vice-President of Service to Parliament and interpretation.
The translation bureau provides translation and interpretation services in indigenous languages to the House of Commons and the Senate on an as-needed basis, when requested by Parliament. For example, during the meetings of this committee of the last few weeks, it is the bureau that ensured interpretation services in indigenous languages. For these reasons, we maintain an up-to-date list of approximately 100 interpreters who work in 20 different indigenous languages.
Before going into greater detail about our services in indigenous languages, allow me to speak briefly about the bureau.
Established in 1934, the Translation Bureau has its foundation in the Translation Bureau Act, which mandates it to serve departments and agencies as well as the two Houses of Parliament on all matters related to the translation and revision of documents, as well as interpretation, sign language, and terminology.
We are the sole in-house service provider to one of the world's largest consumers of translation services, the Government of Canada and Parliament, which makes us a major player in what is, in every sense, a global industry. Our translation services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, via secure infrastructure, and in over 100 languages and dialects.
In concrete terms, the bureau fulfilled approximately 170,000 requests in 2017-18, mostly for translation, or nearly 305 million words for departments and agencies and over 49 million words for Parliament.
In official languages, we provide over 5,000 days of interpretation for Parliament, nearly 7,000 days of conference interpretation, and over 4,500 hours of closed captioning for sessions in the House of Commons, the Senate, and your committees. Lastly, we supply over 9,700 hours of visual interpretation.
I now would like to talk to you about what we do for indigenous languages. The data that I just mentioned contextualizes the translation bureau's current capacity in providing services in indigenous languages.
The bureau is well equipped to meet the current demand, in particular through partnerships it has established over time with a number of indigenous organizations. Our mandate is clear: we are here to serve Parliament.
If Parliament chooses to increase the demand for services in indigenous languages, as the exclusive provider of language services, the translation bureau will regard it as its duty to meet that demand.
Requests for services in indigenous languages are few and far between compared with the overall volume of translation and interpretation requests for all languages combined. Thus, of the 170,000 translation and interpretation requests we handled in 2017-18, approximately 760, or 0.5% of the total volume, involved indigenous languages. Of those 760 requests, nearly 85% were for Inuit languages. The other requests were spread among 28 language combinations.
As for interpretation, requests from the House of Commons and Senate committees have totalled 33 days of interpretation in indigenous languages since 2016, primarily in Cree—East and Plains—Inuktitut, and Dene.
In 2009, the bureau worked with the Senate on a pilot project aimed at providing interpretation services in lnuktitut to senators Charlie Watt and Willie Adams, stemming from one of the recommendations in the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament. Pursuant to the affirmation of aboriginal rights of the first nations, the report recommended that the use of lnuktitut be allowed in Senate deliberations, in addition to English and French.
The interpretation services were provided on several occasions, and the senators seemed pleased with the service provided. However, although greater capacity has been established in lnuktitut than other indigenous languages, identifying interpreters with parliamentary experience proved to be a challenge.
I would like now to touch on two operational challenges for the bureau.
First, your committee has discussed the possibility of using remote interpretation services.
The Translation Bureau conducted a pilot project in 2014 to test the viability of such a service. While the results were encouraging, there are still issues that need to be addressed before we can offer this service on a regular basis. The two key issues are audio quality and bandwidths, which can be erratic, resulting in variable audio quality for interpreters and clients alike. We are committed, though, to continuing to explore this possibility further as technology improves.
Second, as other witnesses before this committee have explained, since there are approximately 90 indigenous languages and dialects in Canada, the capacity of skilled interpreters is limited. The translation bureau's ability to assess their language skills is equally restricted.
This capacity is based in part on the limited demand for this service. Should Parliament create a more sustained demand, the bureau would be prepared to play an active role in increasing capacity, in partnership with indigenous communities and organizations. Over time, this service could be offered to Parliament on a regular basis, thus contributing to the preservation of indigenous languages in Canada.
I would now like to describe the work the bureau has undertaken to foster new relationships and build new partnerships, in anticipation of an increased demand, which would support the government's objective to renew the relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples.
We have assigned a senior interpreter to assess the bureau's capacity, and then leverage our expertise in linguistic services. We want to develop strategic partnerships to enhance capacity development. To do so, we are in contact with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Inuit language authority, and the Grand Council of the Crees, as well as with training institutions such as the Arctic College of Canada and the First Nations University of Canada.
We are also working in partnership with the University of Alberta's Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute, to promote the interpretation field amongst students, over the coming summer.
Since 2003, we have also been working regularly with the Government of Nunavut, among other things to provide terminology training to Inuit translators. The focus of our most recent project, in 2017, was our terminology tool, Termium, for which we created a terminology directory that now contains some 2,300 records in lnuktitut.
In other words, Mr. Chair, we are always looking for new avenues that will allow us to broaden our partnerships and increase our pool of indigenous language translators and interpreters. As indicated earlier, we are meeting the current demand and are taking the necessary steps to build a pool of additional resources.
In conclusion, I'd like to draw your attention to the new vision for the translation bureau, which is to make it a world-class centre of excellence in language services. This vision is notably based on the need to strengthen the bureau's ties with its employees and clients, but also with its partners. It also relies on training and the next generation of language professionals. These are the foundations on which we intend to build, if you, the Parliament, request services from the bureau in indigenous languages on a more consistent basis. Our mandate is clear: we are here to serve Parliament.
In closing, I would like to underscore the work of our interpreter in the interpretation booth near us, thanks to whom today's meeting has taken place in both official languages.
Thank you for your time and attention. I would be pleased to answer any of your questions.