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Translators and interpreters help save lives. La traduction et l’interprétation au service de l’humanité. October 5, 2011

Posted by Dominique Millette in Canada, cultural industries, Disaster aid, Disaster zones, Language industries, NGOs.
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Whether in disaster zones or aiding NGOs carry out their crucial tasks, linguists play a crucial role in ensuring communication flows freely for those in distress.

To highlight this lesser-known aspect of the business, Glendon College in Toronto invited two guest speakers in honour of International Translation Day on September 28: Henry Dotterer, founder of the online translation agency Pro-Z and board member of Translators Without Borders; and Lola Bendana, president of the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA).

Two Canadians have founded or helped direct organizations to do just that. Lori Thicke, a Torontonian working in Paris, founded Translators Without Borders in 1993 after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) approached her for a quote. She decided to provide the humanitarian work for free. As Henry Dotterer tells it, MSF answered they had a budget to pay the work. Thicke replied that the money could be used to provide more vaccine, which was the subject of the work to be translated.

Since that time, TWB has attracted 678 volunteers to its database. Translators are screened through a rigorous testing process before they gain admission. After that, it’s up to the humanitarian organizations and volunteers to find each other and agree on projects. Amongst the NGOs served are Oxfam, MSF, Zafèn, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Enfants du monde and GoodPlanet. After the earthquake in Haïti, volunteers helped translate documents on how to manage clinics where amputations are performed; and how to treat shock and trauma. TWB supports about 40 active clients. Its next mission: to expand into Africa and help build the translation industry there, for local languages as well as better-known ones.

Meanwhile, Lola Bendana, the Toronto-based president of the IMIA, helps coordinate efforts to reach out to disaster victims worldwide. The IMIA is an advocacy organization founded in 1986, representing 70 languages, 2,000 members and 11 countries and dedicated to professionalizing medical interpretation. A Glendon College English-Spanish translation programme graduate, Bendana usually opposes the idea of translators and interpreters working for nothing. However, humanitarian work is a crucial exception. Through its Disaster Relief Interpreter Database, the IMIA puts volunteer medical interpreters in touch with NGOs and other organization working in natural catastrophy zones.

The initiative was born from the Haïti earthquake in January 2010. For seven weeks, the Comfort Hospital Ship ministered to patients; however, the first volunteers were non-professionals who did not have any in-depth knowledge of medical terminology, which proved problematic. As a result, the Red Cross approached the IMIA for help. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011 provided another unfortunate opportunity to lend assistance, as Japanase IMIA representative Kazumi Takesako organized a group of volunteer interpreters and reached out to translators as well. The latter were needed to help with documents concerning nuclear problems at the Fukushima plant. Takesako had vowed to prevent tragedies such as the case of a mother in a previous earthquake who lost her baby

Interpretation can be wrenching for other reasons. Bendana is of Nicaraguan origin and was studying in Costa Rica when she was sent to the border to assist Nicaraguan refugees. Her professors had advised all student interpreters to explain to the refugees they should lay out the political reasons for their asylum claims. However, the refugees would say they had trouble feeding their children. They feared being killed if they told the truth: not being allowed to work and having parcels of land confiscated, Bendana said.

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Que ce soit dans les zones de catastrophe ou en aidant les ONG à effectuer leurs tâches essentielles, les linguistes jouent un rôle indispensable au niveau de la libre communication entre les personnes en détresse et les organismes de sauvetage.

Afin de mieux faire connaître cet aspect de l’industrie, le Collège Glendon à Toronto a invité un conférencier et une conférencière à l’occasion de la Journée internationale de la traduction le 28 septembre : Henry Dotterer, fondateur de l’agence de traduction en ligne Pro-Z et membre du conseil de Traducteurs sans frontières; et Lola Bendana, présidente de l’association internationale des interprètes médicaux et médicales, la International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA).

Deux Canadiennes ont soit fondé, soit aidé à diriger des organismes à faire exactement cela. Lori Thicke est Torontoise basée à Paris et a lancé Traducteurs sans frontières en 1993 après que Médecins sans frontières (MSF) l’ait approchée pour qu’elle leur fasse un prix. Elle a décidé plutôt de fournir le travail humanitaire gratuitement. Comme le raconte Henry Dotterer, MSF a répondu qu’on avait le budget pour le travail. Thicke a répondu que l’argent pourrait servir à fournir davantage de vaccins, le sujet même du travail à traduire.

Depuis, TSF a attiré 678 bénévoles à sa base de données. On évalue des traducteurs à l’aide d’un rigoureux processus d’examen, après quoi il en revient aux organismes humanitaires et aux bénévoles de se retrouver et de s’accorder sur les projets. Les ONG qui profitent du service comprennent Oxfam, MSF, Zafèn, la fondation Fais-Un-Vœu, Enfants du monde et GoodPlanet.  Suite au tremblement de terre d’Haïti, des bénévoles ont aidé à traduire des documents sur la gestion des cliniques où on effectuait des amputations; et sur le traitement du traumatisme et du trauma. TSF appuie environ 40 clients actifs. Son prochain défi est d’offrir davantage de services en Afrique et d’aider à y bâtir l’industrie de la traduction, tant pour les langues locales que pour celles qui sont mieux connues.

De son côté, Lola Bendana, la présidente torontoise de l’IMIA, aide à coordonner les efforts effectués pour rejoindre les victimes de catastrophes partout dans le monde. L’IMIA est un organisme de revendication, fondé en 1986, voué à la professionnalisation de l’interprétation médicale. Il regroupe 2 000 membres de 11 pays parlant 70 langues. Diplômée du programme de traduction de l’anglais vers l’espagnol du Collège Glendon, Bendana s’oppose habituellement à l’idée du travail gratuit pour les traducteurs et interprètes. Cependant, le travail humanitaire est une exception fondamentale. Par le biais de sa base de données d’interprètes pour le secours des personnes sinistrées, l’IMIA permet aux interprètes médicaux et médicales bénévoles de communiquer avec les ONG et autres organismes oeuvrant en zone sinistrée.

L’initiative est née du séisme haïtien de janvier 2010. Pendant sept semaines, le navire hospitalier Comfort a soigné les sinistrés; cependant, les premiers bénévoles n’avaient pas de formation professionnelle et ne connaissaient pas la terminologie médicale, ce qui a occasionné des ennuis. Donc, la Croix-Rouge a approché l’IMIA pour demander de l’aide. Le séisme et tsunami au Japon en mars 2011 a fourni une autre malheureuse occasion de prêter secours : la représentante japonaise de l’IMIA, Kazumi Takesako, a organisé un groupe d’interprètes bénévoles et a également demandé l’aide des traducteurs. Ces derniers étaient nécessaires à la traduction de documents concernant les problèmes nucléaires à l’installation de Fukushima. Takesako avait juré d’empêcher les tragédies futures semblables à celles d’une mère qui avait perdu son enfant au cours d’un séisme antérieur, parce que les secouristes ne voyaient pas le bébé et ne comprenaient pas ce qu’elle disait pour les avertir.

Le métier d’interprète peut s’avérer déchirant pour d’autres raisons. Bendana est nicaraguayenne d’origine et faisait ses études au Costa Rica lorsqu’elle a été envoyée à la frontière pour venir en aide aux réfugiés du Nicaragua. Ses professeurs avaient avisé tous les interprètes aux études d’expliquer aux réfugiés qu’ils devaient donner des raisons politiques pour leur demandes d’asile. Cependant, les réfugiés disaient qu’ils éprouvaient des difficultés à nourrir leurs enfants. Ils craignaient se faire tuer s’ils disaient la vérité : soit qu’on ne leur permettait pas de travailler et qu’on leur confisquait leurs lopins de terre, a dit Bendana.

Guns: world issue hits close to home April 26, 2010

Posted by Dominique Millette in Canada, United Nations.
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One third of all guns in the world are in the U.S. And half the guns used to commit crimes in Canada come from south of the border. So yes, this country needs and wants an International Arms Treaty. “Here in Canada we live next to a country with as many guns as people and those guns are killing Canadians. This is the main argument for an international agreement,” asserted Coalition for Gun Control president Wendy Cukier during an April 22 conference in Toronto.

The Coalition for Gun Control includes more than 300 policing, public safety and violence prevention organizations and was founded in the wake of the Montreal Massacre.

Whether in the Congo or in Canada, every one of the 200,000 civilian gun deaths which occur yearly in the world happens in a neighbourhood. That neighbourhood is connected not only to a community, but to the world at large. To what extent, how often and what can anyone do about it was the subject of the talk, sponsored by York University’s Centre for International and Security Studies.

Guest speakers were Cukier, also Associate Dean at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson; James Sheptycki, York University Professor of Criminology; Kenneth Epps, Senior Program Associate at Project Ploughshares and Detective Sergeant Rob Didanieli, of the Toronto Police Department’s Organized Crime Firearms Enforcement Unit.

“Guns tend to increase lethalization,” Cukier pointed out. As it happens, it’s a women’s issue: the percentage of women killed by partners in the past year was “55 % in U.S., 46 % in Brazil and 25 % in Canada”.

Firearms flow from unregulated areas to regulated areas. This is the case from gun-heavy South Africa to surrounding countries, as well as for the U.S. to Canada. Many guns may come from legal sources but are diverted into illegal use. Regulation addresses this problem by trying to plug the holes. The objectives of an international agreement are to lower the risk of misuse and diversion, as on the national level. The UN Programme of Action on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons seeks to ensure that states prevent illegal possession.

Since most guns in the world are in civilian hands, in non-conflict situations, the human rights aspect of gun control is that states which fail to adequately regulate firearms are failing to protect citizens from gun violence.

Though the impact of regulations is difficult to prove, Cukier asserts there is broad evidence. “The difference between Canadian and U.S. homicide rates (200 versus 10,000) is explained entirely by the difference in firearms,” she observes. Meanwhile, Canadian homicide rates without firearms are only slightly lower than the ones in the U.S.

In Ontario, according to the Advocacy Project, possession or access to firearms is the fifth leading risk factor for femicide. Murders of women with guns are down 60 % in last 15 years alone, which correlates with stricter controls.

Kenneth Epps of Project Ploughshares described the push for an International Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). “National controls vary and are inadequate”, he noted, adding there is a need for common global standards in the face of the impact of irresponsible arms transfers. An ATT would regulate not only civilian weapons but also conventional military matériel.

Negotiations have started in the U.N., and are mandated by U.N. Charter. They also have overwhelming support, from 153 out of 192 countries. In addition to inclusiveness, there is a need for high standards for authorizing transfers, and for effective implementation and transparency. Given the requirement of documentation, tracing and marking, the treaty must provide help for ill-equipped states. Negotiations will start July 2010 and a treaty conference will be held July 2012. The U.S. has indicated its support despite ferocious opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA) but has required that the conference be conducted by consensus. This raises the potential problem of problem of going to the lowest common denominator, observes Epps.

James Sheptycki described what he termed “pistolization” to describe the social phenomenon of the gun as an everyday item. Civilians own 650 million of the total 875 million combined civilian, law enforcement and military personnel weapons in the world; therefore, pistolization is a major concern. Non-conflict deaths due to firearms are high in many countries. They amount to 39,000-42,000 deaths per year in Brazil, where there are active, violent criminal networks. Meanwhile, the U.S. is the “only advanced industrial democracy in the world with a high rate of pistolization”.

Allowing civilians to bear arms can increase casualties immeasurably. The Virginia Tech shooting resulted in 32 deaths, while the one at Dawson College produced one death, with several wounded. Why the difference? Standing orders. In the U.S., police must worry about crossfire from self-defending civilians, so it takes longer to secure a perimeter. In Montreal, police were able to respond to gunfire immediately, notes Sheptycki.

Meanwhile, outside Canada, pistolization of local cultures affects peacekeepers’ security, development efforts and aid delivery, for example in the Congo. “More research is needed to integrate domestic and international levels of research on pistolization as a public policy issue,” asserted Sheptycki.

Rob Didanieli, Detective Sergeant with Organized Crime Enforcement at the Toronto Police Department, is in charge of the Arms analysis and investigation unit. Last year, 3,000 firearms were seized in Toronto alone. Many handguns are used in crime, since they are easier to conceal and use. Of these, 53 % were sourced to the U.S. and  47 % to Canada, where most were stolen from legitimate businesses.

Didanieli noted that gun running from the U.S. to Canada is a lucrative endeavour. A handgun easily available in Georgia for $300 can be sold on Canadian streets for five times that amount. Since this country is a source of high-grade meth and cannabis, drugs go down and guns come up. The large border is “impossible to police”, said Didanieli, with 300 million people going back and forth just last year.

Canada, the West and the Russian sphere of influence April 13, 2010

Posted by Dominique Millette in Arctic politics, Canada, Canada-Russia issues, geopolitics.
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The Cold War may be over and the First and Second Worlds redefined as the so-called Third World has been renamed, transformed and fragmented, but division of power remains an issue in the post-Communist world. Despite the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Russia clings to imperial dreams and conquests which predate the Revolution of 1917.

Various forces come to play within the cracks of the power vacuum: among them, pan-Islamist ideologies which seek to attract the discontented Muslim populations of Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan, where lie some of the world’s largest oil reserves. The same may be said of the Caucasus. Salafist fundamentalism appears to be gaining ground rapidly in places such as Dagestan, home of suicide bomber Mariam Charipova. The region is now a political powder keg, with the Russian invasion of Chechnya and subsequent interference still an incendiary issue, while local political structures seem to veer into failed statehood. “Everywhere in the North Caucasus there is gross mishandling by local authorities, corruption, human rights abuses… and no one knows how to fix it,” says  David Kramer, Senior Transatlantic Fellow of the German Marshall Fund in Washington D.C.

Canada’s interests in the former Republics of the Soviet Union follow those of the United States to a large extent. Where they differ is that the Arctic becomes more of a concern for us.  Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon will be in Moscow on April 19 and Arctic issues will be on the agenda.

In early April in Toronto, Munk Centre for International Studies invited David Kramer to share his insights on Russia. Kramer was formerly U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and previously, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, responsible for Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus affairs.

Kramer put the blame squarely on the Russian side of the ledger for difficult relations between the U.S. and Russia. As a benchmark, the new START that was signed by the United States and Russia in Prague on Thursday April 8th “was supposed to be the easy part and has taken several years”, he observed. This is despite the fact that, with its arsenal in decline, Russia would have more of an interest in arms reduction than the U.S.

In Kramer’s words, the Russian view of its interests is “zero-sum”: every bit of foreign influence whittles away Russian power. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there’s been a whole lotta whittling going on. President Obama has clearly indicated the U.S. opposes Russia’s attempts to control its neighbours, from its invasion of Chechnya and erstwhile meddling in Ukrainian and Byelorussian elections to the continued Russian troop presence in Georgia and Moldova. Meanwhile, former Soviet Republics such as Georgia and Moldova have applied for NATO membership, as the organization carries out military exercises in the Crimea. Russia views NATO expansion into former Warsaw Pact countries with alarm, as the organization places interceptor missiles in Poland and Romania and proposes a command centre in the Czech Republic. Then there is the EU’s Eastern partnership program, which offers discussion on visa-free travel and free trade, if not outright membership. Russia has accused the European Union of “luring” participating states Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

Kramer noted that efforts to win over or persuade neighbours to comply with Russian interests have backfired so far. These have included a cyberattack on Estonia, banning imports of agricultural products from Moldova and cutting off gas supplies to other republics. At the same time, the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has not borne fruit, as leaders haven’t attended meetings.

Meanwhile, the destabilization in Kyrgyzstan may threaten the Manas Air Base, key to the war in Afghanistan, and therefore American interests as much as Russian ones. One would think this is also the case in Afghanistan itself: Kramer notes that 90 per cent of the drugs transiting from the war-torn region country through Tajikistan stays in Russia, which is now facing a growing drug problem. This is only one aspect of the security issues in the region.

Canada’s interests follow those of the West. However, with respect to Arctic issues, the Harper government in particular has blustered against any potential Russian threat to Canadian sovereignty that could arise due to recent exploration of the sea floor and greater access to Northern resources with climate change. Earlier, a CBC article reported that “Fresh tensions between Canada and Russia emerged Wednesday after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a session of his Security Council that his country must be prepared to defend its claims to Arctic mineral riches.” At issue: untapped oil reserves, itself a controversial issue in the context of global warming and conservation efforts. During the latest Arctic Summit on March 29 in Chelsea, Quebec, indigenous groups opposed any exploration and exploitation.

To Kramer, the Russians’ zero-sum approach continues in the Arctic but the country “doesn’t have wherewithal to do it. Its fleet is not in very good shape” and the Arctic is a tough environment in which to operate, with incredibly challenging terrain. To him, there may be competition, but “not to the extent that it causes conflict”.

Our place in the post-recessionary world March 25, 2010

Posted by Dominique Millette in Canada, recession, world economy, world finance.
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Because Canada has emerged relatively more unscathed from the Great Recession than its counterparts in the U.S., Europe and Japan, there’s a tendency for some to feel smug. Yet, the recent storm was only a prelude to the gathering demographic tsunami awaiting fiscal policy makers everywhere. That includes Canada.

This was one of the issues to emerge during “After the Meltdown”, the inaugural conference at Glendon College’s Centre for Global Challenges, on March 24 2010.  The panelists: American Nobel Laureate economist George Akerlof,  award-winning Québec economic columnist Pierre Fortin and London School of Economics professor Tim Besley.

Last year, Akerlof published a book called Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism. The gist of his argument, and of cowriter Robert Shiller’s, is that market forces are not governed by entirely rational decision-making as conventional economic theory posits. Originally, Keynes was the first to use the term “animal spirits” in economic theory. It describes consumer and business confidence, but also the key factor of trust. This, as Akerlof argued during the conference, goes necessarily beyond the rational. The resulting conclusion of the book is that only the steady hand of government can effectively counter the erratic pull of emotional overconfidence and subsequent panic.

Fortin, for his part, writes for the Québec magazine Actualité, but is also professor of economics at the Université du Québec à Montréal. He’s won the Gold Medal of the Governor General of Canada and has won national prizes and medals for his articles and his column. His contribution to the debate centred around the need for zero-deficit fiscal responsibility to prepare for both further economic disruption and needed social spending. A big part of that is our upcoming demographic winter, specifically the problem of ballooning health care. In Ontario alone, as premier Dalton McGuinty pointed out earlier this month, health-care funding will consume 70 per cent of the budget in 12 years if left unchecked. Today, health takes up 46 per cent of provincial spending. Meanwhile, the 15-64 year-old population will stop growing in 2025, just 15 years from now; and the 65+ segment will explode. Fortin stated that no amount of increase in the birth rate, or immigration, will change the fundamental imbalance.

One of the problems, of course, is that changing health care costs is a titanic struggle. Québec doctors regularly leave the province for Ontario, which pays twice as much, or for the U.S., which can pay even more. MDs in the U.S. make about $200,000, which is between 2 and 5 times as much as doctors make in other countries. The effect is to pressure Canadian provincial governments into negotiating higher fees with its medical professionals. This is one factor which keeps costs high compared to other developed countries; another, argued Fortin, is health care bureaucracy.

If cost-cutting becomes too great a challenge, revenue generation must take its place. This leads to the issue of comparative productivity: Canada and Italy are the snails of productivity in the G7 countries, asserted Fortin. This lag translates into lower fiscal revenues.

Tim Besley then weighed in with his analysis, which he has also brought to bear as External Member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee and as consultant to the English Treasury.  He observed that normally, capital would flow from rich countries to poor ones, while before the recent crisis the opposite occurred. This ought to have given us pause. Besley gave an overview of the policy and theoretical failures underlying the crisis: the emphasis on inflation targeting as sufficient for global stability; the rejection of activist fiscal policy — a view he espoused personally, he acknowledged; the dismissal of economic inequalities as inconsequential; and the spread of globalization limiting the power to tax. A major pitfall, of course, was lack of strong regulation, as demonstrated by the shell games major financial institutions played — Lehman Brothers and Citigroup being only two examples.

Other factors created pent-up pressure for the direction ultimately taken by capital flows. For example, current account balances diverged dramatically in recent decades with Germany, China and Japan producing surpluses while the U.S. and U.K. created deficits. This sent borrowed money flowing out of some economies and into others. There was also strong growth in financial liabilities: in Spain and in the U.K., these grew to 200 per cent of GDP by the year 2000. As a result, there was an increase in securitization and related derivatives, instruments at the heart of the recent crisis. Meanwhile, financial sector wages skyrocketed from 1.5 to 4 times the rate of other non-farm sector workers from 1990 to the mid-oughts, which increased the number of people eager and willing to wade into the trough. At the same time, there was an unusual compression of risk premia: by 2004-05, buyers accepted a much lower compensation for risk, which indicated very high confidence. Too high, as it turned out.

All in all, what emerged from this discussion, and subsequent questions, was that global governance and local oversight are major issues for the G20 today — and Canada has an important role to play, though we cannot afford to be complacent within our own borders by any means.