Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at the legislature. There are calls for the provincial government to provide translations of the updates in languages other than English. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at the legislature. There are calls for the provincial government to provide translations of the updates in languages other than English. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Interpreters for B.C.’s COVID updates would boost awareness of pandemic protocols, advocate says

Kulpreet Singh says province should provide interpreters for languages other than English.

To reach more people from diverse backgrounds, the province should be hiring non-English-language interpreters for Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix’s COVID-19 press conferences, a B.C. public health advocate says.

Kulpreet Singh, the founder of the South Asian Mental Health Alliance and an advocate for equity in public health, says timely interpretations of public health messages in languages other than English would increase public awareness about COVID-19 and what must be done to reduce its spread.

“I think there definitely has been a gap in communication in terms of the COVID-19 press conferences and the overdose crisis updates,” Singh said. “I feel that on the provincial government level, if we had had interpreters from the first day back in March to now, we would have had a population that was much more well-versed in the protocols.”

Across B.C., there are more than 1.3 million people for whom English is not their first language, and more than 700,000 who mostly speak a language other than English at home. In the Fraser Health region, where COVID-19 rates have been highest, more than 370,000 people speak a language other than English most often at home.

“Obviously, on a higher, government level you can’t have all languages available, but [you should try] to cover as much of the population in a basic way,” Singh said. He pointed to the effectiveness of sign-language interpretation of the press conferences. “In the same way, for people who are from different language backgrounds, it would improve understanding.”

Thus far, communication in other languages has been limited to written translations of government press releases and statements. Those are mostly confined to government and health authority websites that aren’t heavily frequented by the general public, although they are used by non-English media in their reports.

Fairly recently, Fraser Health has begun posting more social media messages in a variety of languages other than English.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
tolsen@abbynews.com


@ty_olsen
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Singh was quick to applaud those efforts.

“Fraser Health has been providing a lot of their infographics in diverse languages and also customizing them for different cultural concepts, like how to wear a mask with a hijab, how to wear a mask with a turban,” he said. “I think it was a delayed reaction, but I’m really happy to see they were picking up on it. I think it should become a standard. It should not be an afterthought.”

But he says there continues to be an important gap in the lack of interpretation for the much-watched public health briefings.

“Multilingual interpretation of provincial press conferences should be a standard, rather than just having written translations,” Singh said. “What happens with the written translations is they are provided on the government website, but the average British Columbian doesn’t access the government press release website. To reach the common public, we have to get a little bit more creative and use Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and provide more audio and video in different languages.”

Singh said the situation also underscores the need for more diversity among government workers, and more people who can spot and address gaps before they are obvious.

“Equity and diversity is about making health promotion accessible, which in turn will save lives, so it has a real on-the-ground impact.”

Working with community leaders is important and vital, he said. But he said health officials also should be working to directly connect the public with the information they need during the pandemic. That includes both in providing interpreters for high-profile press conferences, and providing more information that can be shared through social channels.

“When it comes to official information – especially in this era when we are seeing information being changed or manipulated, when we see fake news or people spreading information that may not be reliable – we are looking for reliable information during an uncertain time from the government, if the government can directly provide it in those languages, rather than relying on health authorities alone or community leaders alone, that would make a difference, because then we know it’s coming from the source.”

Asked about its efforts to reach South Asian communities, a Fraser Health spokesperson says the health authority has been creating shareable information and resources in a range of languages, including Punjabi, Hindi, Farsi and Simplified Chinese. The spokesperson also said Fraser Health has provided translated materials to religious organizations, private schools, soccer clubs, Halal stores, and non-profits that provide services to the South Asian community. They’ve also offered workshops to non-profits that work with newcomers to Canada to help keep them updated on the latest guidelines.

An email from a Ministry of Health spokesperson said the government “shares public health information in as many ways and as many languages as possible, and pointed to translated media statements. The News has asked if the ministry has any intention of providing live interpreters.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
tolsen@abbynews.com


@ty_olsen
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Peninsula Community Foundation is set to host an online poker fundraiser on Dec. 11. (Unsplash photo)
Peninsula Community Foundation plans online poker tournament for charity

December fundraiser to feature pair of Surrey/White Rock poker pros

Lacey, a palomino paint, is in “amazing” shape now, compared to when she was rescued in August 2015. (Leanne Peniuk photo)
BC SPCA’s horse-rescue program offers equine intervention

Book Rescue Me raises funds, awareness for animal-welfare agency

Hugh Dobbie’s South Surrey-based tech business Yare Media was recently acquired by California’s Visaic Inc. (SFU photo)
South Surrey tech company acquired by California business

Hugh Dobbie founded Yare Media in 2016, and ‘will remain involved’

Fraser Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Newton Elementary School in Surrey, according to an information bulletin Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. (Image: Google Street View)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at second Surrey elementary school

Newton Elementary closed for two weeks, set to reopen Dec. 14

Joy Johnson, seen here during an installation ceremony on Oct. 22, is Simon Fraser University’s 10th president and vice-chancellor. (Submitted photo)
SFU’s Surrey campus tackling COVID-19-related research

‘We can learn now,’ SFU president Joy Johnson said, ‘so should something like this happen again we’ll be prepared. We have to learn from this current pandemic’

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Most Read