A Quest For Equality

June 8th, 2012


By Bernice G | Cross-posted from the FAQMP Blog

The following guest post comes from one of our #FAQMP regulars, @pupdoggie aka Irene aka Bernice. She has been submitting questions to MPs of all stripes through #FAQMP this season. All MPs have been sympathetic to her request/urgings/demands to Close Caption all Parliamentary Committees so that the hearing impaired can have the same access. to Parliamentary Proceedings enjoyed by other Canadians. However, after a year, Parliamentary Committees are still not Closed Captioned. We thank @pupdoggie for submitting this guest post to #FAQMP describing her journey, her struggles and frustrations.

Abraham Lincoln once stated, “all men are created equal,” but due to a number of diverse reasons, this is not actually the case. I am not equal because I am hearing impaired. I function fairly well because I subconsciously learned to read lips from a very young age when my hearing began to deteriorate. Bilateral hearing aids provide sound to some extent, and if I am facing a speaker I can take part in the conversation to a minimal degree, (Background noise is a killer), but I often see the frustration apparent in the people to whom I am speaking. They wish to be helpful, but in all honesty, I know I am a trial to them. The young ones especially find it difficult to understand why Grandma just mumbles “uh huh” far too often in answer to their questions. But, in spite of being ‘different’ or ‘unique,’ I am grateful for my 77 years of life.

So, why have I chosen to relate this story for your consideration?

Eighteen months ago, I installed satellite television to gain access to our government in action. I wanted more than just clips chosen by broadcasters; I wanted the ‘real goods’—all of it. Canadian Public Affairs Channel (CPAC) airs the House of Commons’ (H of C) daily proceedings when the Members of Parliament (MPs) are sitting. I wanted to see how they actually run the country, and wow, was I disappointed. Only the Question Period (QP) is Closed Captioned (CC). I require CC for all my TV viewing. This incident marked the beginning of my search for equality: complete access to all televised House Sessions just as all hearing persons enjoy. If you watch CPAC you will know the answer, otherwise you might read further.

The United Nations Convention on the ‘Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ states that signatory countries, Canada is listed, “must support, promote, and ensure that disabled persons enjoy full equality under the law.” It includes long-term sensory impairment as a disability in its definition of those persons’ human rights. Ontario’s Human Rights Code (OHRC) “recognizes the dignity and worth of every person in Ontario.” Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) in February 2008, concerning the addition of French captioning to Question Period, said, “captioning through voice recognition…enables Canadians who are (hearing impaired) to participate more fully in the political process by virtue of this civic commitment.” Further, “for people who are hard of hearing, access to parliamentary debates is not only an essential service but also a democratic right.”

Results from the 2006 Census established that 4.4 million Canadians – 17% of the population at the time – had physical or cognitive disabilities. In its 2008 accessibility proceeding with respect to telecommunications and broadcasting, the CRTC pointed out that demand for accessible content will increase over the next decade and a half. With these references in mind it is important to remember that closed captioning is useful for many persons other than those with hearing loss e.g. people learning English, waiting in a loud train station, or a student observing Parliamentary action in a library.

With these principles in mind, I forged ahead to achieve my right of access to our government’s business.

My first call to Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) House Leader Peter Van Loan, my Member of Parliament, using the Bell Relay System Operator, netted a staffer who suggested three totally irrelevant options. One of which was that I learn French Sign Language. Not helpful. The only French I remember from 60 years ago is, “Je ne parle pas Francais.” Next call was to the adjacent CPC MP’s office, Patrick Brown. His staffer said they could not talk to me because I did not live in their Riding. And so began my journey of trial and frustration.

A call to Canadian Public Affairs Channel (CPAC) netted the responses, “we do provide CC for the House of Commons, contact your satellite provider for CC capability.” I have been using CC from day one, so this option provided no resolve. Further email replies were, “we provide gavel to gavel captioning of Question Period.” It was not QP that I was concerned about. “CPAC provides H of C proceedings exactly as delivered to us,” and “the H of C and the Senate are responsible for providing CC to accompany their programs.” No help there! Next step was the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Emails from CRTC netted several different explanations depending upon who replied. For example: “CPAC’s license requires 90% of programming be captioned.” That sounded great! Does CPAC meet that requirement? I checked out 48 hours of their programming by popping in each half hour or so and taping the late night shows. The results were as follows: about 62% was captioned and that included the 2-3 hours of French captioning on CPAC English Channel. Now there was a ray of light; something to jump on.

The twenty-one page paper ‘Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2002-377’ in part stated that, “the proceedings of the House of Commons must be accessible to Canadians.” Since I don’t speak ‘Legalese’ I was unable to find anything relating to captioning. Several emails later from Jennifer Eustace, Natalie LeMay-Calcutt, and Suzanne Papineau of CRTC I finally clued in. All of these regulations do not apply to the House: “CPAC is … exempt from ‘gavel to gavel’ coverage of the House proceedings as well as its committees.” Also, Gary Malkowski, Special Advisor to President, The Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) stated, “Canadian Human Rights Commission, (CHRC) and CRTC have no mandate to deal with CC issues due to ‘privilege’ of the House of Commons.” These statements finished that avenue for me. Then on Monday, May 14, 2012, CPC Minister Jim Flaherty said “at the end of the day the Government makes the rules.” That is so true but they cherish immunity from U.N., CHRC, and CRTC regulations. What I want to know is, why?

The next step was to try and arouse interest among the Members of the House themselves. Louis Bard, Speaker’s Office, stated that “MPs have a budget that they use to provide communications in any way they wish.” This budget seems to be for providing interpreters for deaf constituents needing to petition their MP for services. Sounded good, but not appropriate. So, I fired off emails to Ministers James Moore, Minister of Official Languages and Canadian Heritage, and Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, whom I had been told were the Ministers who could solve this problem. No luck; not even a courtesy response from either one. New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Jack Layton‘s office responded quickly with, “we would like to thank you for bringing the matter of closed captioning …to our attention. We applaud your advocacy in raising this with CRTC and CPAC.” The bit of campaigning which followed was acceptable. To date they were the first to offer any support.

A letter to Speaker Peter Milliken in March of 2011 brought forth this response in part: “The House of Commons shares your commitment to providing all Canadians with wide access to the work of parliamentarians…the move to providing information in digital format is…inclusive…and can be accessed in different formats. We are continuing our efforts to extend captioning services to enable wide-ranging access to the work of Parliament and its Members.” Not helpful! Gary Malkowski’s letter to the Speaker later that month brought forth an almost identical response but added, “…captioning services for QP are available on ParlVu.” Not relevant! ParlVu captions only the QP.

During early September of 2011, long-time Liberal MP Ralph Goodale agreed to a briefing with Beverley Milligan, Executive Director of MAC, Media Access Canada, a recognized innovator in the standardization of CC for Canadian broadcasters. The meeting was very encouraging and Mr. Goodale agreed “to (our) objectives and that the Heritage committee look into (the problem) and correct it.” Beverley also met with Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett who is very supportive of accessibility and they briefed Liberal MP Scott Simms, vice-chair of the Heritage Committee. As a result of these meetings Ms. Elaine Diguee, Director, Multimedia Services House of Commons, described to Beverley the difficulties they have been having for years and that, “they are just months away from a solution.” Elaine agreed to update us regularly. Seven months later and still no word!

In autumn 2011, I downloaded ichannel for the one purpose of watching #FAQMP, a program which asks MPs of all Parties questions submitted by listeners. Oh my, no captioning! I immediately jumped on Pam Ward and Karyn Pugliese concerning this problem. Within three months there was CC on all programs and even the previous shows. Amazing! ichannel is digital and not required to broadcast with captioning. This program allowed me the opportunity of asking several MPs why there was no CC for House of Commons debates etc., very interesting answers, some of which recommended that I “… read Hansard, contact James Moore, send a letter to Speaker Scheer.” Been there, done all that!

In March 2012, a letter to speaker Andrew Scheer from Liberal MP House Leader, Francis Scarpaleggia, on behalf of the Liberal Caucus brought forth a two page familiar response but included “in 2004…(a) partnership resulted in the selection of voice recognition technologies to support…captioning services that could support other televised proceedings.” Not helpful! Note that they have been working on voice recognition since 2004. Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner, in a Liberal Party webcast chat room asked me to send him additional information of my quest and in a personal email encouraged me to continue the fight.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, during a personal meeting said, “we are working on the problem and are just figuring out how to take it further.” At this, I became so excited—progress at last!

Well, not quite.

L. Bisson, Manager of Correspondence for Hon. Rob Nicholson, CPC Minister of Justice, has forwarded my “correspondence to Minister Moore for his information and consideration.” Minister Moore’s office must be tired of seeing my name. Last week CPC MP James Rajotte’s office replied, “…at the earliest opportunity…your views and suggestions will be carefully considered.” I am not holding my breath!

Gary Malkowski and Beverley Milligan are still actively involved, and I take every opportunity to ‘jump on’ anyone whom I think might take an interest and be able to actually solve the problem; and so it goes.

As I watch Question Period day after day, I ‘see’ the Conservative MPs saying, “we are proud of our Action Plan, we are proud of the 750,000 net new jobs created since 2009, we are proud of our work to replace the CF-18 jets…” etc., etc. Are you also proud that the deaf community has no access to the House proceedings beyond QP? I surely hope not. You will be honestly proud when you can say, “after 8 years we are providing CC for all House Sessions.”

My final argument: as an English-speaking disabled Senior, a tax-payer for 55 years, and “…one of nearly three million Canadians (who) suffer from some form of hearing loss…” (PWGSC), I deserve the right to participate fully in our Government in all ways. I should not have to depend upon Twitter’s live-streaming to keep up with Parliamentary news. Anything less consigns all of the non-hearing community to be less than equal and second-class citizens. It is our Democratic Right to have equal access! Beverley Milligan has added that, “it is the role of government to set the bar for acceptable access to communications and therefore, all CPAC should be captioned, not just that which is regulated by the CRTC.”

In conclusion, I challenge YOU, Prime Minister Steven Harper; YOU, Speaker Andrew Scheer; YOU, House Leader Peter Van Loan; YOU, Ministers James Moore, Diane Finley, and MP Patrick Brown to turn off the sound on your TV. (Not fair to replace it with captioning). How long will you last watching the BIG game or your favorite movie with no sound? Granted, I do admit that the House debates are not my first choice of TV programming, but I do believe that when I want to tune in to a special committee hearing or whatever, I have the right of access to the proceedings. I have the right to be equal! Do you not agree?

About The Author: Bernice G. Age: still kickin’. 35+ years as a single mother, 2 sons, 4+ great grand children, retired Nurse Educator, a Happy Hooker (rug that is), on a mission to force the Government to honor the rights of the hearing impaired re access to House of Commons via closed captioning.



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