OUR LANGUAGE RIGHTS
Canada 2022 Conference
Our Language Rights Canada 2022, the 2nd annual Conference sponsored by MCIS Language Solutions, is the flagship event for all Canadian language advocates interested in issues relating to language justice across the spectrum of official, Indigenous and newcomer languages. The purpose of the event is to convene various non-profit agencies, social service providers, academia, government officials, language professionals (interpreters, translators, other), language enthusiasts, and artists working at the intersection of language and health, housing, food, gender, distributive and environmental justice, among others. The impact of COVID-19 on the global and Canadian economy, the pressure created on health and social services and the language industry sector have been unprecedented. In that respect, language access, particularly related to emergency and health communication over the past two years, has become an essential and critical component in achieving Canada’s commitment to justice and diversity as well as the ability to mitigate risks to public safety within the critical communications systems.
Since we are not able to convene in person for the second year in a row, Our Language Rights Canada 22 Conference is pleased to present our partners and guests a virtual conference event on Language Advocacy Day. Some of the panels featured are listed below. Please stay tuned as we are adding new speakers and new topics:
Note: Although Language Rights Conference and Festival acknowledges participation and contribution of many participants across different traditional territories in Canada and the world, we particularly acknowledge the land we are situated on - the City of Toronto - that is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit and the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and now is home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
(10am - 11:10am) Panel I: A NEW WAVE OF ADVOCACY - GRASSROOTS PERSPECTIVES
Description: The disruptive nature of 2020 brought about a dramatic change in how we conduct our personal and professional lives, exposed sharp (language) inequities and transformed our views on what equitable language justice and support in emergencies means. Many examples of practical, hands-on advocacy that took place in 2019 and 2020 confirmed that there is a definite place for this kind of advocacy. However, it took pandemic restrictions to permit the level of mobilization and outreach to bring this initiative to new champions. This panel will introduce some of them.
Moderator: Grace Eagan is the Director, Language Services and Digital Strategy at Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services in Toronto. Grace began working as a community interpreter in 2007, and has since been actively involved in various aspects of language access including interpreter training and accreditation, quality standards, remote interpreting platform development, and research. She is currently Chair of the Ethics Review Committee and Co-Chair of Advocacy Committee the Ontario Council on Community Interpreting (OCCI).
Born in Myanmar, raised and educated in a large refugee camp in Bangladesh, Saifullah has called Kitchener home since 2016, where he continued his journalism studies as the first Rohingya professionally trained as a journalist in Canada. Simultaneously, he co-founded the ‘Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative’ to address the Rohingya genocide and create educational opportunities for refugee youth all over the world. Currently, he is an Executive Director and community lobbyist advocating for the Rohingyas, inclusive of interpretation and language access.
Martha Singh Jennings
Martha is an 2SLGBTQ refugee sector leader. Beginning her career in her hometown of South London (UK), she has worked in solidarity with displaced people since 2009. Martha begun her Canada-based career at Rainbow Railroad in 2016. Most recently, she joined The 519 as the Manager, Community Engagement. The 519 is a community centre and registered charity serving Toronto’s 2SLGBTQ+ communities since 1976. Martha leads a team that supports newcomer settlement and older adult programming. She is also on the steering committee of the Rainbow Coalition for Refuge, a national collective seeking to improve outcomes for those displaced due to their sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, or sex characteristics.
Jeanie Godfrey manages Settlement Services for the Town of Banff. She is part of a 9-person team that has been assisting foreign-born community members in Banff, Canmore, and Lake Louise since 2011.
Settlement Services is embedded in the municipal organization of the town but is externally funded by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The settlement team works directly with clients but also with schools, employers, agencies and institutions to ensure the needs and assets of the newest community members are understood and celebrated.
Erika Chang is a Program Manager at John Howard Society of York Region. She has an educational background in Criminology, Child and Youth Work, and Human Resources.
Erika has worked and advocated within the Human Services sector for over 15 years, honing her expertise in program development and delivery, specifically for individuals with criminal justice involvement.
(12:05pm - 1:15pm) Panel II: INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES IN CANADA AT A TURNING POINT - END TO DISCRIMINATION IN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES IN EDUCATION
Description: Indigenous Language Defenders - Andrea Bear Nicholas, Lorena Fontaine, Amos Key Jr., David Leitch, and Ian Martin- a group of Canadian scholars - will argue that the Indigenous Languages Act has to be amended to incorporate the principles of the UNDRIP Bill, an urgent priority, given the fact that many elder speakers and teachers are passing on. Their vast knowledge and priceless wisdom, coded in their languages, needs to be transmitted to youth as fully as possible knowing the beneficial effect this inter-generational transmission of language and knowledge has on youth.
Moderator: IAN MARTIN is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Glendon College, York University, and a Chair of the Canadian Language Museum (CLM).
Ian organized an outstanding three-day colloquium at Glendon on the “Indigenous Language Policy Implications of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission” on Canada’s Indigenous language policies.
Andrea Bear Nicholas
Andrea Bear Nicholas, Maliseet from Nekotkok (Tobique First Nation), NB, is a professor emeritus at St. Thomas University. She spent most of her career as chair in Native Studies at the university, and also established a Native Language Immersion Teacher Training program and an Adult Immersion program in Maliseet. Andrea is also a recipient of an honorary doctorate from U de Moncton for her work in language revitalization
David Leitch, L.B., LL.M.
David's area of interest are linguistic rights, particularly section 23 of the Charter which guarantees francophones outside Quebec the right to educate their children in French in publicly funded schools. Building on an earlier article David published an article in 2006 arguing that section 35 can and should be interpreted to include the right of aboriginal parents to have their children educated in their own languages.
Lorena Sekwan Fontaine
Lorena is Cree-Anishinabe and a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. She is the Indigenous Academic Lead and an associate professor in the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Winnipeg. Her PhD research is on Aboriginal language rights in Canada was produced in a CBC documentary entitled “Undoing Linguicide” which was awarded the 2017 RTDNA Adrienne Clarkson Award. Her most recent publication “Our Languages are Sacred: Indigenous Language Rights in Canada” is contained in a collection of essays that reflects the recommendations of Indigenous legal scholars and policy leaders on how Canada can braid together a new legal framework.
(1:35pm - 2:45pm) Panel III: MY MENTAL HEALTH IS MULTILINGUAL
Description: Though the mental health of people across the globe has suffered greatly since 2020, there is a reason for cautious optimism. Not only COVID-19’s effects on our collective and individual well-being have forced the world to confront mental health challenges like never before but also many innovative thinkers, interpreters and newcomers youth advocates, have stepped up to the challenge. Today we can leverage smartphones and wearables to create more representative data pools of our global population and create pilots and programs that take advantage of learning from diverse and multilingual users. However, within the context of addressing mental health as an ecosystem, the needs of interpreters, still considered to be irreplaceable in many vital counselling sessions, should not be neglected. Interpreters are trusted carriers of “culturally and ecologically valid” information, yet the work they do also creates burnout and secondary (vicarious) trauma. This is yet another provocative and much-needed discussion about the complexity, challenges and opportunities for critical language access.
Moderator: RANIA YOUNES is currently the National Project Manager for Immigrant Employment Councils of Canada at IEC-BC and has worked with other equity-seeking organizations such as TRIEC and the Canadian Arab Institute. Over the last 10 years, after being involved with various social impact initiatives and not-for-profits, social justice, inclusion and economic empowerment became a focus of Rania's work. When immigrants prosper we all do, and with that belief, Rania co-founded WelcomeHomeTO, a grassroots initiative that works closely with local community groups to articulate and bring attention to settlement challenges and opportunities, envision a dynamic settlement network where all newcomers are welcomed with open hearts and minds, and support immigrants' potential for a stronger Canada. Rania also co-founded a networking and mentoring platform for professionals within the Canadian Arab community (PCAN) to help primarily women and youth, to flourish through peer mentoring and supportive environments.
Jasmine Hawamdeh is the Manager of Communications and Operations at the Canadian Arab Institute. She is a proud Arab-Canadian, born in New York City and raised in Scarborough, Toronto. She oversees the communication team to develop knowledge mobilization products that advance CAI’s efforts to impact and influence change through the dissemination of narratives, program delivery, policy, and more. Jasmine has extensive experience engaging community members through education and decision-making opportunities through her various roles as the Vice President of Campaigns and Advocacy at the York Federation of Students from 2019-2020 and through her current position sitting on CCUNESCO’s Youth Advisory Group (YAG).
Jasmine is also an independent artist, where she explores the intersections between art and advocacy! You can check out Jasmine’s work at jashawamdeh.com.
Lola has been a member of the Board of Directors and led associations committees, including national and international committees on standards. She led the creation of the National Standards of Canada for Community Interpreting (NSGCIS), was an expert contributor to the Canadian National Translation Service Standards CAN (2008, 2017, 2021-22) and served on the IMIA Executive Board (2009-2014). In 2007 she won the Language Industry Association (AILIA) National Award for Outstanding Contribution to the translation sector. Lola has published books and articles about interpreting and translation. Presently, she is a member of the Board of Directors and Past-President of the Canadian Language Industry Association of Canada CLIA (Former AILIA), a member of the Canadian Advisory Committee to ISO TC37 and a Founding member and Past-President of the Ontario Council on Community Interpreting (OCCI).
Ravina Anthony is the Project Manager, Newcomer & Diversity Initiatives at Kids Help Phone, member of PMI (Project Management Institute), with an educational background in Social Sciences. Over the course of her career, she has worked with marginalized populations to develop programs that deliver positive social impacts in the health and education sector.
After moving to Canada, Ravina began her career at Kids Help Phone where she brings passion and lived experience to shape innovative and youth-informed initiatives that support the mental health journey of newcomers and other equity-deserving populations across Canada.
A key piece of her work involves increasing language access for newcomers to reach out for mental health support in languages that they prefer. Currently, Kids Help Phone provides phone counselling in English, French and Arabic (via interpreters) with the longer-term roadmap to expand language access for newcomers in many different languages.
Abrar Mechmechia is CEO & Founder of ABRAR Trauma and Mental Health Services/ In This Together Director and Leader
Mental Health Counselor and a member with CCPA (Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association) with a passion for empowering marginalized youth and women.
Abrar was born in Hamilton and raised in Aleppo, Syria. When the civil war broke out, Abrar remained in Syria to volunteer and work with SOS, UNICEF, and UNHCR to provide children with trauma-informed mental health care.
Abrar was a recipient of the Honorary Woman of Distinction Award for 2021, and it was recently featured in the Toronto Star article about trauma and mental health of newcomers and marginalized youth.
(2:50pm - 4:20pm) Panel IV: CANADA'S HIDDEN LANGUAGES
Description: Sign language is a natural visual language that has its own rules of grammar and sentence order. It is a complete, complex language that employs signs made with the hands and body movements, including facial expression and postures of the body used by many, yet overlooked by society in general. Many Canadians have not interacted with a deaf person, and encounter awkwardness due to the unknown and/or fear. Sign language has been considered a foreign language in line with official spoken languages in Canada. It is not a novelty, it is a bona fide language. The goal of this panel is to re-imagine the inclusiveness of the deaf community, educate about sign languages, encourage society to accept us for our abilities and foster your willingness to work with us. Sign languages benefit everyone.
Moderator: CAYLAN MCMULLAN
Caylan McMullan founder of BriConnect, a consultancy that provides training and advocacy to help ensure society has the capacity to understand and interact with the Deaf community positively and inclusively. The team at BriConnect noticed many deaf and hard of hearing individuals who had to make do with limited information because many businesses struggle to communicate with those who use sign language and don’t know how to remove barriers to communication on both sides of the equation. BriConnect works to mitigate discrimination against Deaf people in critical situations through programs including front-line emergency staff that can understand and respectfully interact with the community; aiding with finding employment and business for members of the Deaf community; and raising awareness for the Deaf community to show they are all capable of working, teaching, being professional, and have the skills and expertise.
Involved in the Deaf community for over 15 years, Cynthia Benoit holds a Master’s degree in Urban Studies and specializes in service accessibility in sign language. Through her diverse experience in sign language linguistics, translation, and interpreting, she has more than one trick up her sleeve. She’s also currently pursuing an MBA degree at HEC Montreal. After living as an expat in the United States and elsewhere in Canada, she currently resides in Ottawa, Ontario, where she runs her business, CB Linguistic Services, which provides various consulting services in four languages across Canada. She was the first Chair of the Canadian Administrator of VRS’ Board of Directors, a position she held for four years. CAV is a not-for profit organization mandated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to provide video relay services to Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in Canada. Cynthia also led the development of EvaLSQ, Canada’s first LSQ proficiency assessment inspired by CEFR.
Is a bilingual Deaf entrepreneur who owns SignAble Vi5ion Inc. that teaches businesses & organizations inclusive communication strategies. She provides them the knowledge and skills to take the awkwardness out of accommodation so they can better serve their clients, as well as offering online learning tools. Through personal experience, she educates that communication is not one way, and it’s not always listening and speaking. Leah is a consultant, inclusive communication trainer, sign language instructor, artist, and advocate for inclusion. She strives for “Access for All, Everyone Wins”.
Leah sits on the Board of Directors at Ontario Cultural Society of the Deaf organization to advocate for the recognition of Sign Language(s) by the provincial government. She was an active part of the Awareness & Education Working Group on the Kingston Municipal’s Accessibility Advisory Committee for 4 years. She is based in Kingston, Ontario.