Why it’s time for a Language Advocacy Day in Ontario

Woman with a child in her arms sitting in packed audience
Language Advocacy Day 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by surprise, leaving national and regional governments scrambling to contain the impact and minimize the damage to their communities. A big part of these efforts relied on communication – on news conferences and social media posts educating people about safety measures they could take, new protocols put in place, and details of the various programs being created to help them through the period of economic shut-down.

But what happens when you don’t learn about the rules and resources?

Right from the early days of the quarantine, a real challenge emerged – countless Ontarians were being left out of the information loop because important notices weren’t being made available in their mother tongues. As a consequence of this, the what and why of social distancing protocols and details of funding supports like the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) weren’t circulating in their news circles.

These Limited English and French Speakers (LEFS) – business owners and employees, parents and community members – were being put at risk because their needs weren’t being considered in communications plans from all levels of government.

These weren’t just relatively new-newcomers, but also Ontarians who had been here for years, even decades; active contributors to the economy and their communities, and very much a part of our social fabric. They had learned the English or French they needed to navigate the basics of daily life, but like many of us who are first-language English or French speakers, still struggle with medical terms or policy pronouncements.

Countless Canadian-born children of newcomers were on the phone with their parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, trying to keep them informed of the importance of staying in, socially distancing when out, wearing masks and the rest of it.

Organizations mindful of the linguistic reality in Ontario, like Ottawa Public Health, created resources to make it easier for LEFS to find the information they needed to keep themselves, their families, and by extension, their communities as safe as possible from the virus.

This challenge was nothing new for those who work in the language services field – translation and interpretation agencies and their clients, including hospitals, schools, lawyers and social service counsellors. While Ontario has some great people providing excellent services, they aren’t always engaged by the organizations that interact with LEFS, and too many service providers simply don’t have enough insight on the importance of professional translation and interpretation to understand why they are essential services.

Hard-working LEFS Ontarians have been falling through the cracks of public service because one of their basic human rights had been ignored.

One of Canada’s language service providers, MCIS Language Solutions, saw the COVID-19 pandemic as a stress-test of our system, and decided the time was right to provide a bit of linguistic education to our government. The MCIS team had participated in the United States’ successful Language Advocacy Day for several years, and thought – why don’t we do that here?

Thus was the idea of a Language Advocacy Day Canada born. Recognizing that so many of the services that LEFS rely on are provided or regulated by the province, we decided to start with the Government of Ontario. To this end, we are hosting a Language Advocacy Day at Queen’s Park in February, or – should it still be closed to the public due to the pandemic – online.

The immediate question we asked – what are the specific challenges facing language service providers, their clients, and the people who rely on translation and interpretation themselves?

Over the summer, we have been reaching out to friends and partner organizations in the language services community, immigration support agencies, hospitals, chambers of commerce, crisis support services, etc. to get their insights. Through these conversations and replies to this survey, we are starting to get a better sense of exactly what challenges and opportunities exist around interpretation and translation in Ontario, including where COVID-19 is concerned. Our next post will discuss some of these findings.

We would love to have you join the growing Language Advocacy Day Canada community!

If you are interested in learning more, please email us at languageadvocacyday@gmail.com. If you are interested in joining us, either to share stories online or as part of our delegation to Queen’s Park in February, you can sign up here. One of the purposes of this website is to promote your challenges and projects as well, so if you have a story you want to share, let us know! We would love to highlight your work or even host a blog post.

Limited English and French Speakers play countless important roles in our society, and accessible, high-quality services are essential to helping them continue to do so.

We look forward to sharing more and working with you as we move towards February.

The LAD21 team

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