A plan to hire non-accredited interpreters to address chronic short staffing among federal interpreters in Ottawa is raising concerns about the quality of bilingualism on Parliament Hill.
Interpreters who orally translate from English to French and vice versa help both parliamentarians and members of the public follow and participate in government proceedings.
The International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) is denouncing a pilot program that would bring in interpreters who haven't been accredited through the rigorous process of the Translation Bureau, which is part of Public Services and Procurement Canada.
WATCH | Advocate says hiring non-accredited interpreters will hurt bilingualism on Parliament Hill
Nicole Gagnon, the association's advocacy lead and an interpreter herself, says the strategy is a quick fix that doesn't address the long standing issues with training, recruiting and retaining interpreters.
"It's an attack on the quality of the service we provide and the quality of bilingualism on Parliament Hill," Gagnon said.
"First of all, these people are not qualified, so it's going to undermine quality. And secondly, it's going to be short-lived because these people are going to be working under the same conditions as we are."
Gagnon said there's also the risk it undermines trust between Parliamentarians who need to understand each other for their work and the Canadian public who need to trust that proceedings are interpreted properly.
In a statement, Public Services and Procurement Canada said it is working to address the health and safety issues that have arisen with remote sessions, including pushing for the use of appropriate technology, adapted work hours and research on the acoustic health of staff.
The Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), which represents staff interpreters on Parliament Hill, is also concerned that because the outside contractors will be hired by House of Commons administration and not the Translation Bureau, they will not be subject to the same quality control.
"We are shocked by this decision," said André Picotte, translation vice-president for the union.
"Certainly, there are some people who are competent. The problem is we have no assurance of that. In an organization like the Bureau of Translation, there is verification."
In a statement, the House of Commons administration said the Translation Bureau "has not been able to meet the demand for interpretation services using their current resources."
The statement said the pilot project, which was authorized by the Board of Internal Economy, is assessing the use of remote simultaneous interpretation as well as "external service providers" to be used "as an adjunct to the Translation Bureau," where it cannot meet demand.
They said the House will continue to rely on qualified interpreters and though the Translation Bureau has its own accreditation process, there are provincial qualification standards and professional certifications, as well as graduate degrees in the field.
The pilot project is expected to run for six months starting this week with an interim report due in September.