Parliament Hill language interpreter sent to hospital, union blames lax headset rules

OTTAWA –

A parliamentary interpreter was sent to the hospital during a Senate committee meeting last Thursday, and a union blames that on a lax approach to wearing headsets during video conferencing.

“I was astonished, because it should just not be happening,” Public Services and Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek said.

At the Senate environment committee on Oct. 20, two witnesses testified over video conference with poor sound quality, and did not wear the recommended headphones with a microphone wand.

The meeting’s chair, Sen. Paul Massicotte, opened the meeting cautioning that it might need to be paused.

“I must note that our two witnesses have forgotten or misplaced their headsets. We’ll try doing it without the headphones, and hope it won’t be too difficult for our interpreters,” he said in French.

The first witness wore headphones while the second wore earbuds. During questions from senators, a buzz could be heard as the first witness spoke, similar to a smartphone vibrating on a table.

As the second witness answered questions from senators, there was a sudden moment of loud feedback.

The French interpretation briefly stopped at that point, with another voice taking over.

The Canadian Association of Professional Employees said the interpreter, a freelancer who is member of their union, was sent to hospital in an ambulance after experiencing severe symptoms and collapsing.

The union said that is due to an acoustic shock, which is when inner ear muscles are startled by sudden noises, such as someone tapping a microphone or suddenly speaking much louder than the rest of their remarks.

The meeting should have been stopped, the union argued, instead of proceeding with witnesses using inadequate equipment.

The union is calling for an independent investigation with public reporting of the results, and for all meetings be suspended if Ottawa can’t guarantee interpreters’ safety.

In an interview, Jaczek called the incident “entirely preventable” and said it merits followup.

“The rules are that nobody should be speaking without using the approved headset,” said Jaczek, who oversees the translation bureau.

“Whether it’s the House of Commons or the Senate, I would have thought that those rules were clear.”

The Canadian branch of the International Association of Conference Interpreters says that even brief noises can be loud enough to create concussion-like symptoms, loud ringing in the ears or vertigo.

Experts have testified to Parliament that the staff who translate meetings between English and French are getting injured because they are straining to hear some voices and are exposed to sudden noises.

So many interpreters have been placed on injury leave that the department has hired contract workers, to make up for the staff shortages.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2022.

View original article here Source