Ottawa investigates after interpreter hospitalized on Parliament Hill

Public Services and Procurement Canada says it is investigating what caused a Parliament Hill interpreter to need ambulance transport last week, adding this is the third hospitalization in recent times. years.

« The Translation Bureau is extremely concerned about this accident, » wrote the ministry’s spokesperson, Katherine Proulx.

At the Senate Environment Committee on October 20, two witnesses testified by videoconference with poor sound quality and were not wearing the recommended headphones with a microphone wand.

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During questions from the senators, a buzzing sound was heard when the first witness spoke, similar to a smartphone vibrating on a table. As the second witness answered questions from senators, there was a sudden moment of loud feedback.

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“A feedback occurred in the sound system and a performer suffered an acoustic shock. The performer subsequently received emergency treatment,” Proulx wrote.

The department added that interpreters have required emergency care on two other occasions in the past five years, both before the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Acoustic shocks occur when the muscles of the inner ear are startled by sudden noises, such as someone tapping on a microphone or suddenly speaking much louder as a performer struggles to hear them.

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Experts have testified in parliament about several furloughed employees showing concussion-like symptoms, ringing in the ears or dizziness. With so many absentees, officials began hiring contractors with lower credentials to fill in the gaps.

The Canadian Association of Professional Employees says last week’s meeting should have been called off at the time of the injury.

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Instead, a supervisor from the translation office took over as the freelancer was escorted out of the room, where she collapsed.

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Ahead of virtual appearances, the Senate is asking witnesses to use appropriate headphones, offering to reimburse up to $100 in pre-tax value to purchase one. The House of Commons caps at $175.

“Each attendee is required to use a wired headset with an attached boom microphone to ensure optimum sound quality for simultaneous interpretation,” reads the January 2021 Senate instruction sheet, which specifically says not to use audio. ‘listeners.

And yet, the injury occurred during a session where one witness wore headphones and the other had microwave wandless headphones.

« Senate Administration staff and committee chairs make decisions regarding the operation of committees, including the participation of witnesses, » wrote House of Commons spokesperson Amelie Crosson.

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The office of Senator Paul Massicotte, who chaired the meeting, diverted questions to the Senate administration.

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« When interpreters indicate that the sound quality prevents them from interpreting, witnesses are advised that they cannot continue, » Senate spokeswoman Alison Korn wrote.

She said that was the case at last Thursday’s meeting, but the official recording shows the testimony continued in its entirety.

The House of Commons Audio Visual team maintains some equipment in the Senate, including in the room where the incident occurred.

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They inspected the room after the incident and “concluded that the consoles are operating normally and providing hearing protection for the performers,” House spokeswoman Amelie Crosson wrote.

Proulx said the translation bureau « will also conduct an internal investigation and share its findings with key stakeholders when available. »

Crosson added that House’s AV team performs recurring audits to ensure all systems comply with international safety regulations.

« The House of Commons, together with its partners, has made efforts to ensure that all serious issues are addressed proactively or as they are identified, to improve the experience of participants at distance, improve the quality of hybrid procedures and protect interpreters. »

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