Updated: Dec 23, 2021
December 23, 2021
The waves of the COVID-19 pandemic took the world, first by surprise, and then over and over again by habitual pull, leaving national and regional governments scrambling to contain the impact and minimize the damage to their communities. A big part of these efforts rely 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 off- and on- periods of economic shut-down.
But what happens when you don’t understand the rules and resources?
Right from the early days of the pandemic, a real challenge emerged – countless Canadians 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 or, recently, vaccine protocols, weren’t circulating in their information circles.
Business owners, employers and employees, parents, elderly and community members – were being put at risk because their needs weren’t being considered in communications plans from all levels of government.
These aren’t just relatively new-newcomers, but also Canadians who had been here for years, even decades; actively participating in social life and contributing to the economy and communities while seeing themselves very much a part of our social fabric. Despite being fluent in English or French, these Canadian still needed to navigate the basics of critical daily messaging, suffering from an overload of medical or policy terms and pronouncements and the absence of clear and plain language.
And although organizations mindful of the linguistic reality in Ontario, like Ottawa Public Health or Toronto Public Health, created multilingual resources to make it easier to find the information needed, countless Canadian-born children of newcomers were on the phone with their parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, serving as ad-hoc interpreters and translators while trying to keep their families informed, a burden a young teenager or a child should not have to carry.
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 or social service counsellors. While Canada has many exceptional people providing excellent social services, the importance of professional language services, be it translation, transcription or interpretation, is not always highlighted enough to understand why they are not only needed but essential for Canadian cities and communities to thrive. As a result, some Canadian have been falling through the cracks of public service language access. In addition, lack of a full spectrum of linguistic human rights in Canada, except of Quebec and Yukon Territory that, however, specifically refers to employment, means that the right to choose one’s languages for communication both within the private and the public sphere (legal, administrative, judicial), receiving education and having media/information access in one’s language is not guaranteed (find more about the history of language rights in Canada in the The Canadian Museum for Language Rights blog).
For those reasons, in 2020 the idea of a Language Advocacy Day Canada was born when a group of language providers in Ontario decided to join forces and organize a day of lobbying and celebration of language rights and access. Recognizing that so many of us were in Ontario and the language services are provided or regulated by the province, we decided to start with the Government of Ontario and hosted a virtual Language Advocacy Day on February 4th, 2021.
Encouraged by overall reception, significant attendance and the participants' feedback, this year we are doing the same on February 22nd, 2022 (#LAD22) - meeting with MPPs and organizing a virtual conference - highlighting not only importance of language access but also marking the beginning of the UN Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032, the Los Pinos Declaration) that emphasizes Indigenous peoples’ rights to freedom of expression, education in their mother tongue and participation in public life using their languages.
We would love to have you join the growing Language Advocacy Day Canada community!
If you are interested in learning more about past or current efforts, please email us.
If you are interested in joining us in other way, either to share stories online or as part of our effort on February 22nd, please sign up here.
We look forward to sharing more and working with you as we move towards February, and happy Holidays!
The LAD22 Team