Public Works and Government Services Canada: House of Commons Launches Innovative Captioning Service

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Public Works and Government Services Canada: House of Commons Launches Innovative Captioning Service

February 22, 2008

OTTAWA, ONTARIO -(Marketwire – Feb. 5, 2008) – Did you know that the House of Commons is one of the first parliamentary institutions in the world that, in addition to televising its proceedings, now provides live closed captioning simultaneously in two languages? Since the fall of 2007, the Translation Bureau of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), with its recognized expertise as a provider of language solutions, has provided French captioning through voice recognition for the television broadcast of Question Period in the House. The new service enables Canadians who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing to participate more fully in the political process by virtue of this renewed civic commitment.

Since 1991, the daily live broadcast of Question Period across the country on the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC) and on the Parliamentary Television Network (PTV) has been provided only with English closed captioning (through computer-assisted stenotypy) and French sign language (Langue des signes quebecoise or LSQ). For broadcasters in general, real-time French captioning has never been easy to achieve, primarily because of the limited number of properly trained French-language stenotypists. This prompted stakeholders to promote research and development in the area of voice recognition, which is a viable, less costly option since just 30 hours of training are required to master the technology-a huge advantage over the three to six years of training required for stenotypists.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has announced that, beginning in September 2008, programs broadcast between 6:00 p.m. and midnight will have to be closed captioned for people with a hearing loss. Although the House is not bound by that decision, it has taken the initiative, along with the Translation Bureau, to facilitate access to parliamentary information for deaf and hard-of-hearing Canadians by complementing the existing services with live French closed captioning via voice recognition.

The state-of-the-art technology works like this: a shadow speaker acting as an intermediary repeats what the MP (or the interpreter) says in French. Then the software, which has been calibrated to recognize the shadow speaker’s voice, immediately converts the shadow speaker’s words into written text in the same language.

Within mere seconds, the MP’s words scroll across the television screen. The system currently provides spelling and grammatical accuracy of 85% to 90%. Because the technology is constantly evolving, the Translation Bureau will monitor quality of the live captioning and work to continuously improve the service based on the needs of the target clientele.

Since it is impossible to produce live captions that are 100% accurate, because the speed of processing makes it impossible to review the text or correct spelling mistakes, Hansard remains the only official record of oral proceedings in the House of Commons. Hansard is available on the Parliament of Canada Web site at

The new French captioning service in the Parliament of Canada is the result of a joint initiative of the House of Commons and the Translation Bureau, with the active support of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) and the National Council of Federal Employees with Disabilities (NCFED). To view Question Period with French captions, tune in to CPAC ( and select CC3 from your television’s channel menu.

For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, access to parliamentary debates is not only an essential service, but also a democratic right. It is estimated that nearly three million Canadians suffer from some form of hearing loss, hence the importance of finding innovative solutions to help them access parliamentary information. However, closed-captioned television broadcasting is not just for people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing-others can also benefit. For example, captioning can be a useful tool for promoting literacy, and exposure to closed captioning fosters second language learning. Moreover, with today’s frenetic pace of life, anyone who has ever needed to keep informed in a noisy location, such as an airport or on a treadmill in a crowded gym, will realize that closed captioning in both official languages can keep you from missing any of the current major debates.

PWGSC articles are also published on our Web site at the following address:
For more information, please contact
Public Works and Government Services Canada
Katia Dalpe-Charron
Media Relations Unit

Note from Jim Roots, CAD-ASC Executive Director: The 1991 decision to provide English captioning and LSQ interpretation was the result of a complaint filed by the CAD-ASC. And the CRTC decision to require captioning of all prime-time programming was the result of years of advocacy work by the CAD-ASC.