Reflection: Our Language Rights Canada Conference #LAD22
On February 22nd, 2022 we held our second annual Canadian Language Advocacy Day celebration and Our Language Rights Canada 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 day was a smashing success! Language advocates from across the globe tuned in to learn more about language access and advocacy across Canada, through educational presentations, panels, and videos.
We were pleased to welcome Brodie Fenlon, Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief of Daily News at CBC News. Brodie presented "Trust, News and CBC" which focused on journalism's important role of broadcasting essential information to the public, which has become challenging due to the rise of fake news and distrust in mainstream media. To address these issues, Brodie called for "Public accountability. Public education, authentication. These are steps we need to take to stem the tied of misinformation and build trust in journalism again." Brodie spoke to CBC News' increased efforts to broadcast information in a wide variety of languages, including Indigenous languages. As for building trust with under-represented communities,Brodie said "A key way to build trust is representation - demographic diversity and more regional representation".
February 22nd also marked Global Language Advocacy Day, or #GLAD22! Global Coalition for Language rights (GCLR). Just slightly over a year old, this alliance was able to already coordinate a worldwide Global Day of Language Advocacy, #GLAD22, designed to inspire a change of attitudes, behaviours and beliefs around language rights and language justice. Made possible by a partnership amongst several human rights organizations such as Translation Commons, Amnesty International, Localization Lab, Translators without Borders, Master World, MCIS, Women in Localization and Language Access Coalition of Canada, as well as several individual language advocates, academics and grassroots organizers.
Our first panel brought to light hands-on advocacy efforts that emerged due to sharp inequities exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and discussed equitable language justice and support in emergencies. We were joined by moderator Grace Eagan of Access Alliance, and our panelists, Saif Muhammad of the Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative, Martha Singh Jennings of The 519, Jeanie Godfrey of the Town of Banff, Erika Chang the John Howard Society of York Region. A central theme of the discussion, as identified by Grace, was that "you can't tackle any crisis, be it employment or housing or healthcare, without paying attention to language". However, our panelists noted that many services of support and essential information are not provided in varied languages, so the populations most needing them are often left behind.
Dr. Elaine Gold of the Canadian Language Museum provided a fascinating look into the museum's unique exhibits, and shared how the museum plays a role in language advocacy. "Our exhibits share information about languages that might be unfamiliar to the viewer and also promote pride in one’s own language. We believe that appreciating the value of one’s own language and of the other languages spoken in Canada is an essential basis for advocacy work"
The second panel was presented by Ian Martin of Glendon College, Andrea Bear Nicholas, Maliseet from Nekotkok (Tobique First Nation), NB, professor emeritus at St. Thomas University, David Leitch, L.B., LL.M., and Lorena Sekwan Fontaine, Cree-Anishinabe and a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, Indigenous Academic Lead and associate professor in the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Winnipeg. The panel discussed how that the Indigenous Languages Act must 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. On the importance of education, Lorena stated that "No people will willingly give up the right to others to educate their children except if people are not given those rights. Nobody wants to admit that schooling exclusively in English or French creates alienation from the Indigenous culture."
The third panel explored the need for multilingual and culturally relevant mental health services for Canada's diverse communities, as well as the importance of interpreters, who can experience secondary or vicarious trauma from their essential roles within counselling sessions. We were pleased to welcome Rania Younes of the IEC-BC as the moderator, and our panelists, Abrar Mechmechia of ABRAR Trauma, Jasmine Hawamdeh of the Canadian Arab Institute, Ravina Anthony of Kids Help Phone, and Lola Bendana of the OCCI. The panel discussed the need for increased funding to mental health services, so that they can be accessible in a variety of languages. "The best way to ensure services are designed for those who need them is to include those people in the design process.", said Jasmine. The panel also discussed that interpreters need mental health support and better working conditions so we will be able to retain more people who provide sensitive, multilingual, culturally appropriate services.
Our last panel of the day discussed the recognition of sign language as a complete and complex language, the diversity of the deaf community, and the importance of promoting inclusiveness and accessibility. This panel discussion was moderated by Caylan McMullan and BriConnect, Leah Riddell of SignAble Vi5ion, and Cynthia Benoit of CB Linguistic Services. The panel emphasized that the deaf community is not monolithic, but is a diverse community with different languages and a complex history. A central theme of the panel was inclusivity. The panelists described how there must be a shift in mindset of how we view deaf people, as there currently is too much emphasis on "fixing" deaf people instead of promoting that people learn sign language."Sign language is about 70% body language and 30% words", said Caylan. Human connection cannot be replaced by technology, which makes interpreters a better option as they are more effective for communication.
The conference also received support from Ontario MPPs! MPPs Mitzie Hunter, Rudy Cuzzetto, Mike Schreiner, John Yakabuski, and Michael Gravelle also shared their support for language access. Additionally, MPP Parm Gill, the current Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism shared his support for Language Advocacy Day, highlighting Ontario's linguistic and cultural diversity. The Language Access Coalition of Canada encourages political parties to continue to support language access by implementing it into their platforms ahead of the June 2, 2022 election in Ontario!
Doly Begum, MPP for Scarborough Southwest provided closing remarks for the conference."I have seen firsthand in my community of Scarborough Southwest how language barriers can impact the livelihoods of our communities. Seniors, new immigrants, members
of the deaf community, and many others are impacted by critical public health information and services being primarily available in English". Thanks to Doly, the conference ended on a high-note when she committed to a Private Member's Bill that would declare February 22nd the Official Day of Language Access in the Province!
Although #LAD22 is over, our advocacy for language rights is not! The Language Access Coalition of Canada will continue its efforts to promote language rights and language access across Canada, so that all individuals have equitable access to vital information and services, regardless of the language that they speak or sign. If you would like to join us, or know of an organization that you think we should reach out to, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you all for attending LAD22, and of course, thank you to the amazing team that made this possible!