I intend to make some initial comments in French. Then I will change to English, if that works for you.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, first, I would like to thank you for inviting me to talk to you about interpreter training, which is close to my heart.
In the few minutes I have been given, I would like first to paint you a picture of the program I represent, the Master's degree in conference interpreting. Then I will explain some of the obstacles we have to face in training interpreters that may well have some effect on the arrival and settlement of female Yezidi refugees.
The Master of Conference Interpreting offered on the Glendon Campus of York University is a two-year graduate program. The first year is given entirely online to students from all around the world and the second year is taught on campus in Toronto.
The program has two objectives. First, our aim is to train conference interpreters, like those working in the booths in this committee room. Of course, we train interpreters in English and French, but we also train them for other markets, such as Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Turkish, Russian and Arabic.
Our graduates work on Parliament Hill, but also for the International Committee of the Red Cross, for United Nations agencies, and in various private markets around the world.
You may be interested to learn that former students in the Master's program at Glendon College trained the 500 interpreters who greeted the 30,000 Syrian refugees a year and a half or two years ago. It was also one of our graduates whom you saw on television when the Prime Minister welcomed the first Syrian family to arrive.
That sort of gives you a brief introduction to the program that I'm responsible for here at the university.
I'd now like to talk about two obstacles that we're facing. These two obstacles are interrelated and might have an impact on some of the issues that you're looking at.
First off, I'll say that it's not very easy for us to find qualified applicants. We do have to look around the world. It's one of the reasons that we do some of our training online. When the time comes to bring those students to Canada, it's not always easy. This is particularly true with regard to Middle Eastern languages. Our applicants are routinely refused study permits. In fact, I'm dealing with a case now where an applicant is a trained translator. She works with written translation, and she'd now like to become a trained interpreter. However, an embassy official refused her study permit because, apparently, he didn't understand that there was a difference between translation and interpreting and said, “You already have training in this area; you don't need to come to Canada.”
That's sort of the first obstacle that we face in trying to get qualified applicants into the program. It's connected to the second obstacle that we face, which I think, in large part, is due to the ignorance that the public has about the complexities of interpreting. It's very wrongly assumed by most people outside the field that it's not a very difficult task and that if you speak two languages, then that's enough. In fact, interpreting is a very specialized skill, whether it takes place in the conference setting or in the community setting.
One of the things I forgot to mention about Glendon is that while we train conference interpreters, we also train people for the community market. We have courses in medical and in legal interpreting. Students who finish the first year with us and don't go on to the second year often go into the market as community interpreters.
I'll just give you a very brief idea of how specialized this skill is. We know of a case, for example, where a patient who didn't speak English went into a hospital. A family member who spoke both languages interpreted for the patient, but a mix-up between the words “right” and “left” resulted in the patient having the wrong leg amputated. Instead of being a single amputee, he wound up being a double amputee. There was a case here in Canada where confusion between the words “back” and “stomach” caused a B.C. man to lose a leg and a kidney, and to be paralyzed in his right arm. This is not work that we want to put into the hands of people who are untrained or unqualified.
The skill that's required to do this work is often grossly underestimated, and as a consequence, it tends to be grossly undervalued and grossly undercompensated. What tends to happen is that people who go into community interpreting and who have the skill set to do the work well don't find the compensation that they're looking for, that they need, so they tend to leave. It's very difficult for us to build capacity in community interpreting with the high turnover of interpreters.
I know that last week you heard from my colleague, Lola Bendana, who is very active on several fronts in our field, with the “National Standard Guide for Community Interpreting Services”, with the championing of the language interpreter training program at a number of community colleges here in Ontario, and also with the Ontario Council on Community Interpreting and its new accreditation system.
This gives you a sense of the landscape that is out there that many of us are trying to build and get off the ground. I would argue that a lot more needs to be done to ensure that trained interpreters are used when interpretation is needed, that those interpreters are remunerated adequately, and that, in many cases, the interpreters have help in gaining access to training and accreditation.
We're a country that relies on immigration to support our labour force and to feed into our social safety net. It's time for us to recognize that interpretation plays a key role in the settling of newcomers to this country. We should get serious about supporting interpretation.
That's what I have to say to you now.
I'm happy to answer your questions.