Good morning, Mr. Chair, and honourable members. Thank you for inviting me to present to you about this very important topic.
Thank you to the interpreters who will be making sure our voice is heard in French as well.
Besides Multi-Languages, I have been working for the past 30 years with different non-profit organizations and associations that have created standards of practice, the language interpreter training program, and recently an accreditation system for community interpreters in Ontario, which is basically the base of professionalization.
Why do we want professional interpreters? Why is it important to support accreditation, training, and testing for interpreters?
I would like to start by sharing a very brief story that can actually clarify what I'm going to be sharing soon afterwards.
A man called 911, and the police arrived. He said his wife was acting crazy and that she was jumping up and down on her bed. The officer went into the room and saw that the woman was agitated and unable to tell her what was going on. The officer decided to call an interpreter, who introduced herself and reassured both parties that she would interpret accurately, and that everything would remain confidential.
Slowly the woman calmed down and, through the interpreter, the police found out that the woman had been brutally sexually assaulted. Her agitation was a result of her intense pain. They were able to get her medical help. The woman conveyed accurately that she felt safe doing so. This is the difference when you have professional interpreters.
There are countless examples of this difference. We see it on a daily basis in health care and the legal and social services fields. With high-needs refugee populations, if they receive the help they need in a timely manner from a professional interpreter, there will be less need for health care services, fewer mental health issues, and a lowering of costs in all levels of government.
As a background, as you can see from this very simple example, we know that language and cultural differences are among the main barriers to accessing public services in Canada where, as we know, more than 200 languages are spoken. We also understand that ethnocultural communities have a lower rate of participation in any public program. We understand the healthy immigrant effect with regard to language barriers, and that interpreters are basically a bridge to limit that language barrier. Therefore, contracting professional interpreters is essential to providing equal access to public services to all Canadians, especially in sensitive areas such as health care, legal settings, immigration, social services, settlement services, and so on.
I'll provide a little background on how we have worked over the last 25 to 30 years in Canada, and specifically in certain sections in Ontario.
Back in 2007, we published our “National Standard Guide for Community Interpreting Services”. This was a large milestone. These standards have been used nationally and internationally to create further certification for agencies and accreditation for community interpreters. We have language interpreting tests that are mainly used in Ontario but are also being used outside of the province. They're called the ILSAT and the CILISAT, and I believe you just learned about them in the previous session. Both exams actually evaluate the competencies of interpreters in terms of consecutive interpretation and sight translation. The tests are available in over 70 languages.
We also have a college program, which is post-secondary training that lasts 180 hours. It was implemented in 2006 and is now being offered in multiple colleges across Ontario. Currently it can be taken within one year. Originally it was designed for two years. There is also a program at York University, and it also takes one year.
One of the last initiatives I'll mention, which is more recent than the training and standards, is the accreditation of interpreters launched by the Ontario Council on Community Interpreting, or OCCI. OCCI is a multi-stakeholder council of organizations that represent the different sectors, such as interpreters, colleges and training institutions, purchasers of services, agencies, and so on. They developed this accreditation to set a benchmark and in response to the constant need for quality interpretation services in Canada. The ACI credential was created to support all languages that currently offer a language interpreting test.
There are several risks and costs that we know in not providing interpretation services at the professional level. Poor communication due to language barriers can leave organizations open to legal challenges, and can increase long-term health costs for newcomers and the health care sector. The social cost of unhealthy immigrants is very high: escalated health care costs, time off work, short and long-term disability, decreased productivity, unemployment, poverty, etc.
Given the adverse impact of poor interpretation on individuals with limited English proficiency, municipal, provincial, and federal governments may have a challenge in keeping their mandate to provide equal access to services to all Canadians, as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canada Health Act, and Ontario's Human Rights Code.
Even though we have advanced by creating standards for training and accreditation, we still have several challenges to work with, such as the lack of funding to update the already 10-year-old curriculum and to support the ACI accreditation process. Interpreters working in community sectors basically have very poor working conditions, poor hourly rates, and so on.
There are several recommendations that our sector has come up with. First, support the accreditation. Second, support the language testing. Third, make sure that there is a collaboration between governments and the associations to advance the agenda of community interpreting as a profession rather than an occupation, and to ensure that a professional interpreter is provided every time the life of someone is on the line.
We would definitely like to see the support, and thank you for your time.