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Politics Commons to provide translation for MPs speaking Indigenous languages

Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette rises in the House of Commons in Ottawa on May 6, 2016.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

When Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette gave a speech last year entirely in Cree, hardly any of his fellow parliamentarians in the House of Commons understood a word he said.

That’s because Commons rules recognized only French and English as languages deserving of simultaneous translation.

But no more.

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Members of Parliament from all parties have accepted a report that recommends interpretation services be made available on request for any MP who wishes to use one of more than 60 Indigenous languages in the Commons or in a Commons committee.

Reasonable notice must be given so that the House administration has time to secure, if possible, the required translation service.

Ouellette calls it “the most significant event for languages” in Canada since 1952, when French translation services were introduced, and says it signals to Indigenous people that their languages “are just as important as English and French.”

“It is a momentous occasion to demonstrate to Indigenous Canadians that this chamber is fully representative of each and every one of us in this country, that we are not half citizens, that we are full citizens of this nation,” he said Thursday outside the Commons as MPs in the chamber were debating the matter.

Ouellette expressed hope that the move will help save “the original languages of Canada,” which are in danger dying out.

“With this now we have a fighting chance to ensure that our children will be able to speak those languages and speak those languages well and into the future.”

Commons Speaker Geoff Regan referred the issue to the procedure and House affairs committee after Ouellette raised a point of privilege about the lack of translation services for his speech last year.

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