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Official bilingualism and the language professions*

By Brian Cassidy, Certified Translator (ATIO), and Barbara McClintock, Certified Translator

A decade ago, right here in Circuit, former Commissioner of Official Languages Graham Fraser wrote, “Canada’s language professionals . . . toil in the shadows in order to open spaces for people to meet and communicate. . . . They are the architects of our national dialogue.”

In choosing official languages legislation and policies as the theme for this issue, we were aware of both the importance and the fragility of Canada’s official languages. In addition, 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act (OLA) – a historic piece of legislation for Canada that needs to be modernized so it can retain its relevance in the future. If you take a closer look at how the OLA came to be, it quickly becomes clear that linguistic duality is the glue that holds our country together. The main challenge of the OLA has been to protect official language minority communities (OLMCs) throughout Canada. New Francophone immigrants across the country are beginning to play a role in the rejuvenation of OLMCs, and translators and interpreters are helping to welcome people to Canada and promoting both official languages because they are active in court, in government and at the community level, in addition to providing services to businesses.

Our contributors are extremely dedicated to their work. First, Raymond Théberge, Commissioner of Official Languages, remembers his roots as a Francophone in Manitoba and puts the OLA into context. Then, OTTIAQ president Donald Barabé reminds us of the connection between the history of the OLA and the international and business impacts of translators today, and McGill University professor María Sierra Córdoba Serrano discusses the dichotomy between language rights and translation rights in the Canadian judicial system.

Our next three contributors are parliamentary language professionals. Even before we could get an inside view, we were quite simply in awe of federal interpreters, and we wondered how those Hansard and committees translators managed to stay afloat given the sheer volume of words they had to face on a daily basis. Now, we can say that they are some of the best, most dedicated and highly motivated language professionals in the business! Debates translation veteran Jean-François Baril explains how the Hansard translation team manages to churn out up to 100,000 words in a single night. Committees translator Michelle Delorme reports that those on the parliamentary beat do not always have it easy in terms of word counts or deadlines, but we quickly learned that they are there because they want to help keep the national dialogue flowing and play a meaningful role in promoting and safeguarding Canada’s official languages. Canadians have a right to follow Parliament up to the minute in the official language of their choice, and for those professionals, it is a privilege to make that possible and also provide a voice for senators and members of Parliament in the other official language. You get a sense of that commitment in senior interpreter Anton-Emmanuel Demarchi’s article as he tells us just how far interpreters were willing to go to keep providing world-class service to Canadians when the COVID-19 pandemic threw them the ultimate curve ball.

Finally, Rachel Martinez tells us about the National Translation Program for Book Publishing and talks about the state of literary translation in Canada.

Other sections of this issue of Circuit provide additional material related to the OLA. In La esféra hispánica, Professor Córdoba Serrano talks about bilingualism in the courts, and Entretiens presents an interview with Université de Moncton Professor Matthieu LeBlanc on official bilingualism and the French language in New Brunswick.

Bonne lecture!

Circuit would like to thank Brian Cassidy, co-editor of this issue. Brian Cassidy has served the public and private sectors for 25+ years. After over a decade with CBC/Radio-Canada, he tried his hand at interpreting before joining the parliamentary committees team at Public Services and Procurement Canada’s Translation Bureau in 2019.


* revised version

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