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Virtual Parliament Sittings Literally Causing Injuries for Interpreters


OTTAWA—Virtual sittings of the House of Commons and parliamentary committees are causing headaches for interpreters—literally.

Coping with iffy audio quality, occasional feedback loops, new technology and MPs who speak too quickly has resulted in a steep increase in interpreters reporting workplace injuries, according to the union that represents some 70 accredited interpreters who translate English into French and vice versa.

Those injuries include acute acoustic shock, tinnitus, headaches, nausea, sleeplessness, mental fog, and inability to concentrate.

Commons Speaker Anthony Rota has been doing his best to help by reminding MPs repeatedly to wear headsets, which provide better audio quality, and to speak more slowly.

But that advice clashes with another change that has resulted from the move to virtual proceedings during the COVID−19 pandemic: strict limits on the amount of time allowed to question ministers and for them to give answers.

Anthony Rota
Anthony Rota
Liberal MP Anthony Rota speaks after being elected as the Speaker of the House of Commons on Dec. 5, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

To make the most of their five minutes worth of questions, some MPs are asking a series of rapid-fire questions, which can leave ministers with only a few seconds of matching time in which to attempt to answer.

“I had a long conversation yesterday …,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland began to say on May 7 before being cut off in her response to a short question about whether there have been any discussions with the United States about re-opening the border.

Canadians were destined never to find out with whom shed had that long conversation as her questioner, Conservative MP Todd Doherty, switched to another topic for a different minister on his next question.

Rota implored MPs several times to “please speak at a reasonable pace” for the sake of the interpreters.

“This is just how fast I speak when were in the House of Commons,” responded Conservative MP Raquel Dancho at one point, who promised to “try to speak more slowly.”

Earlier in the week, interpreters and the union representing them, the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, appealed to MPs on the procedure and House affairs committee, which is studying ways to move to a fully virtual Parliament, to help minimize the problems.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
(L-R) Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Health Minister Patty Hajdu participate in a press conference on COVID-19 at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on March 16, 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

CAPE president Greg Phillips told the committee that more injuries were reported by interpreters in April alone than were reported in all of 2019.

Virtual proceedings are more of strain on interpreters at the best of times, requiring them to work shorter shifts. That, combined with the steep increase in injuries, sick leave and requests for transfer to non−virtual assignments during the pandemic, hRead More – Source