Speech for the Translation Bureau Vision Summit

Ottawa, Ontario -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

Check against delivery

Hello everyone,

I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we are gathered is part of the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people, an Indigenous people of the Ottawa Valley. For thousands of years, they have lived, hunted, traded and travelled here.

I am delighted to be addressing you this morning. Whether we be terminologists, translators, revisers, interpreters, linguists or language professionals, we are all members of the same profession. I am honoured to be here with you.

I want to thank Stéphan Déry, Chief Executive Officer of the Translation Bureau, whom you all know, for inviting me to speak to you today.

Allow me to start with some words of wisdom. Jerome of Stridon, the patron saint of translators, said " There is an eloquence in actions that language never equals."

I believe that the time was ripe for the Translation Bureau to take action and to recapture its pedigree. A modernized vision, supported by a centre of excellence in linguistic services, is the first step in that process.

Stronger ties, a revamped business model, a renewed workforce and advanced technologies for language professionals spell not only major changes, but also better days for the Translation Bureau’s employees and clients.

For those of you who do not know me, I have dedicated myself to teaching, research and university administration over many years. I held senior positions at the Université de Saint-Boniface and the Centre d’études franco-canadiennes de l’Ouest in Winnipeg. I majored in linguistics at university.

I have spent my life studying and defending linguistic duality. Some will say that it is a life-long struggle, but I see it as my life-long passion.

I also believe that linguistic duality is a powerful symbol of openness, empathy and respect.

Today, as an agent of Parliament, my job is to promote official languages and to protect the language rights of Canadians. I steadfastly believe that the quality of both official languages in the federal public service is of paramount importance.

I will spare no effort in ensuring recognition of the status of both official languages and compliance with the spirit of the Official Languages Act in the administration of the affairs of federal institutions.

As you all know, translation plays a critical role in Canada’s linguistic duality. The Translation Bureau is a key link in the application of the Act, particularly as regards communications with the public, language of work in the public service, and the advancement of English and French in Canadian society.

In practical terms, translators play a very important role for unilingual people, bilingual people and all Canadians.

Obviously, resources are required in order to produce quality translations and ensure the equality of both official languages. Unfortunately, federal institutions sometimes tend to cut corners in an effort to reduce costs. That is a mistake.

The media have had a field day with unfortunate examples of bad translations. Over the years, such incidents have cast a pall over federal institutions’ commitment to quality bilingual service.

In today’s global and Internet environment, people from around the world are offering their services.

I realize that outside resources are sometimes needed. However, they must be used carefully, and quality must be the ultimate goal.

Technological advances notwithstanding, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages firmly believes that humans are still an essential part of the translation process. Given how quickly translation software is evolving, human translators could conceivably become redundant at some point. However, we are not there yet.

The Office of the Commissioner’s concern continues to be to ensure that translations are of equal quality in English and French, and that they are made available in a timely manner, in accordance with the Act.

The government must ensure the quality of the translation services it provides for communications with and services to the public, and for its employees.

The competence and expertise of the Translation Bureau’s language professionals are second to none in my opinion.

As mentioned recently by Jean Delisle, professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa and now retired, " Translation cannot be entrusted to untrained public servants who naively believe in the miraculous virtues of Google Translate… Professional translation, which is taught at university, has much higher requirements." I am familiar with the Translation Bureau’s darkest hours, and I have seen in New Brunswick what can happen when work is contracted out on the cheap.

I am pleased to see the partnerships with universities, the hiring of 50 students yearly, and the assigning of language specialists to federal institutions to help them fulfil their official languages obligations.

Linguistic duality is a key element of the Canadian identity. I like to say that official languages are part of Canadians’ DNA , and that English and French have always been part and parcel of our history.

In that vein, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of the Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions, with its more than 200 champions and co-champions.

Since its inception, the Council has provided coordination and leadership, established an interdepartmental committee on official languages and made a recommendation to former Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch to establish Linguistic Duality Day. September 2019 will mark the 11th anniversary of this day.

I have been paying close attention to the proceedings of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages in relation to the Translation Bureau. I am encouraged by the position taken in the Committee’s report and the focus on measures aimed at helping the Bureau provide quality services to federal institutions in a timely manner.

I am also pleased to see the commitment by the Committee, the Translation Bureau and private sector stakeholders to ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act.

I want to thank Mr. Déry for his dedication as official languages champion and as Chief Executive Officer of the Translation Bureau.

In conclusion, I see Canada as a large and welcoming home, inhabited by 36 million people who all arrived here at different times. Since linguistic duality lies at the heart of the Canadian value of inclusion, it has helped to turn our diversity and our differences into strengths on which we must build.

Thank you for your attention. I would be delighted to take your questions now.