Parliamentary interpreter Nicole Gagnon poses for a photo on Parliament Hill, Tuesday January 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Parliamentary interpreter Nicole Gagnon poses for a photo on Parliament Hill, Tuesday January 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Parliamentary hearings over Zoom an ongoing headache for translators

The problem persists as MPs prepare to return virtually to the House of Commons next week

Translators say they are “riddled with auditory injuries” after nine months of interpreting parliamentarians online via fuzzy laptop mics and poor internet connections.

The association representing some 70 accredited interpreters who translate English into French and vice versa on Parliament Hill says seven in 10 respondents to a new survey have experienced auditory issues that forced them to go on leave for recovery.

The problem persists as MPs prepare to return virtually to the House of Commons next week, even as roughly 15 per cent of staff interpreters remain on leave and a growing number of freelancers also take time off from work.

The strain of Zoom-based proceedings has also prompted shorter shifts and more requests for transfer to non-virtual assignments during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a shrinking pool of available translators.

Interpreter Nicole Gagnon says she has experienced some hearing loss due to a constant stream of low-quality sound and loud feedback loops, while her colleagues are coping with tinnitus, nausea and headaches.

The federal translation bureau did not respond immediately to requests for comment on calls for better sound quality.

Many Canadians grapple with the frustrations of daily video conferencing, but Gagnon says the clash of speaking constantly overtop of audio from high-decibel MPs adds a level of physical strain and mental stress that has pushed some to the breaking point.

A study last fall found Canada ranked 13th out of 81 countries in the number of acoustic shock incidents suffered by interpreters, with six in 10 Canadian respondents having reported symptoms typical of the trauma.

The Canadian Press

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