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Response to the Throne Speech: How Supporting Canada’s Most Vulnerable Gets Lost in Translation

"This is our generation’s crossroads. Do we move Canada forward, or let people be left behind? Do we come out of this stronger, or paper over the cracks that the crisis has exposed?"
"It is the job of the federal government to look out for all Canadians and especially our most vulnerable. We need to work together. Beating this virus is a Team Canada effort."
The Speech from the Throne, September 23, 2020

With the recent Throne Speech, the Government of Canada has laid out an ambitious plan to beat COVID-19 and, as we emerge from the pandemic, build a stronger, more equitable country that leaves no one behind.

This plan will touch on many aspects of Canadian society, and include many actions, ranging from filling gaps in our social systems to addressing systematic racism and fixing systematic inequalities in the justice system. The government has committed to tackling all these challenges in a way that is informed by the lived experiences of racialized communities, including newcomers and Indigenous Peoples.

How effective will these stratagems be when the government and the governed are speaking different languages?

As it happens, more than 20% of Canadians, including some of our most vulnerable, have a mother tongue that is neither English nor French. While most newcomers to Canada become proficient enough in an official language that they can navigate their day-to-day lives, this does not mean that they are comfortable enough with English or French to catch all the important information being pushed in their direction.

This was clearly obvious during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with newcomers and refugees making up half of reported cases in the province of Ontario, while only representing a quarter of the population. Settlement agencies, communities groups, and even obliging neighbours have been scrambling to find ways to fill the gaps and ensure these often-vulnerable Ontarians aren’t left behind. While there are a lot of great initiatives out there to help translate critical information for linguistic groups, the reality is that there aren’t enough professional interpretation and translation services available to help everyone in need, and those that are available are often too expensive.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought these interpretation challenges to the forefront, they are nothing new. At our service centres, in our hospitals, and in our courts, Canadians who contribute daily to our communities and our economy are short-changed by our inability to accommodate their linguistic needs.

The ambitions laid out in the Throne Speech are noble, but they cannot be achieved if high-quality, accessible language services aren’t there to help government communicate with Canada’s most vulnerable people.

It is to bring awareness to this reality that a coalition of language service providers and like-minded organizations are hosting a virtual Language Advocacy Day on February 4th, 2021.

This day will provide data, insights and personal stories of the challenges faced by far too many Canadians, ranging from Indigenous Canadians to newcomers, due to this language service deficit. It will also offer some suggestions to the government about how they can achieve their ambitious goals, supporting and empowering individual Canadians, relieving some of the pressure on our social services, and creating economic opportunity.

Interested in participating?

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Share your story of accessing or having difficulty accessing language facilitated services in Canada (email).

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