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Senate committee calls for halt in new plan to hire interpreters

Ottawa, December 20, 2016 – Concerned the federal government’s new plan for hiring interpreters might lead to privatization of its Translation Bureau and undermine the Official Languages Act, the Senate Committee on Official Languages has asked Canada’s public works minister to hold off.

Committee chair Senator Claudette Tardif and deputy chair Senator Rose-May Poirier wrote to Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote, asking her to postpone the January 23, 2017 implementation of a new system “until further notice.” That’s the deadline for the government’s Request for Standing Offers – the next step in accepting applications from interpreters who want to work for the government.

Parliament needs an opportunity to give the issue a closer examination to ensure the government’s plan meets its obligations under the act, the committee says.

“The committee members are concerned by the announcement of a new procurement system for language interpretation services since it could contravene principles enshrined in the Official Languages Act,” senators Tardif and Poirier wrote in a letter they sent to Foote December 15, 2016.

Committee members became concerned after hearing testimony from representatives of the Canadian chapter of the International Association of Conference Interpreters, a professional organization of approximately 200 people who provide simultaneous interpretation of events, including government meetings.

Representatives of the interpreters association told the committee on November 28, 2016 they believe the government is trying to privatize its Translation Bureau as a cost-cutting measure.

“Cost cutting versus quality is an ongoing theme bedeviling the government’s ambition and obligation to provide access of equal quality in the official language of choice,” association member Nicole Gagnon told the committee.

The Senate Committee on Official Languages also invited Minister Foote to explain the new process for hiring interpreters at its February 6, 2017 meeting.

Quick Facts

  • Interpreters provide simultaneous translation of public meetings to ensure Canadians have access to proceedings in both official languages.

  • The International Association of Conference Interpreters represents more than 3,000 interpreters in 89 countries.

  • In Canada, the association has 200 members; about 125 of them work as simultaneous interpreters in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.


“The International Association of Conference Interpreters has shed some light on a very important issue for all of us, which is that of maintaining the quality of our conference interpreters. The suggestion to have the Minister of Public Services and Procurement address the interpreters’ concerns is a very good one.”
- Senator Claudette Tardif, Chair of the committee

“I hope that the government will not privatize the activities of the Translation Bureau. It would be disappointing if the government chose that direction, because the quality of translation could be undermined.”
- Senator Rose-May Poirier, Deputy Chair of the committee

Associated Links

  • Please find the transcript for the November 28, 2016, committee meeting here.

  • Follow the committee on social media using the hashtag #OLLO.

For more information, please contact:

Sonia Noreau
Media Relations Coordinator
Senate of Canada
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