Language concerns prompt Labrador candidates to provide translations into Indigenous langauges

·3 min read

A pair of provincial candidates running in Labrador have taken it upon themselves to get some voting information translated into the Innu and Inuit languages.

Concerns over the mail-in ballots only being available in English were brought up by candidates shortly after the announcement that there would be no in-person voting, and the concerns haven’t abated.

Elections NL told SaltWire Network that “when the election moved to vote by mail only, the chief electoral officer sought translation assistance from our jurisdictional partners.”

“Unfortunately, the timelines for such a translation process would not have met Elections Newfoundland and Labrador’s timelines for mailing out voting kits.”

Patricia Johnson-Castle, who is running for the NDP in Torngat Mountains, has been vocal regarding her concern about the potential disenfranchisement of non-English-speaking Indigenous voters in Labrador.

Last week she decided to get some of the basic election information, such as voting deadlines and how to reach Elections NL, translated into Inuktitut and Innu-aimun and to distribute it online and in print.

Johnson-Castle said when it became clear that they weren’t going to be able to get the information translated from Elections NL, she looked for people to translate some of the information, which took no time at all.

It has always been a concern that ballots are only in English, she said, but past elections involved in-person voting, where people could take family with them to help translate, or avail of local, bilingual election staff.

“In person, people could make a plan, but by text, that’s much more difficult for people to do, especially because some of the terms are very technical,” she said. “People in Labrador always have to accommodate for services that should be provided by the provincial government and this is just another part of that.”

Lake Melville Progressive Conservative candidate Shannon Tobin has also taken it upon himself to provide translation election materials, specifically about the mail-in ballot. Tobin told SaltWire he had received his on Wednesday and was going to have it translated into Innu-aimun for a video.

He said it became a larger issue as the campaign went on, and began when the information at the advance polls was only available in English and people were relying on his scrutineer to provide them with instructions in Innu-aimun.

When the changeover to mail-in ballots only was announced, there was an indication at first from Elections NL that it would accommodate non-English-speakers, Tobin said, but then Elections NL said it would not meet the timelines.

“It’s something Election NL should have had in place from the start,” he said. “We have governments talking about reconciliation. It needs to go throughout government. It should have been done. They should have been making these accommodations for a while.”

He said it is “easily foreseeable” that people would have wanted access to this information in their Indigenous language and it should have been in place before now.

Elections NL said it will “commit to seeking translation services to provide materials in Innu-aimun, Inuktitut, Mi’gmaq/Mi’kmaq and French immediately following this election.”

Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram