Yesterday, the Member for Monfwi requested an adjournment of the House due to the lack of an interpreter in his first language, Tlicho. The Member suggested the lack of interpretation impeded or prevented him from performing his parliamentary functions as a Member of this Assembly.
As Speaker, I must determine three matters:
- first, whether a matter of privilege has been raised at the earliest opportunity;
- second, whether there has been a prima facie breach of privilege; in other words, that at first glance, the matter appears to be a breach of privilege and warrants immediate consideration by the House; and
- third, the extent to which the matter has infringed upon any Member's ability to perform their duties or appears to be a contempt against the dignity of the House.
Yesterday, when I delivered a ruling on a point of order raised by the Government House Leader against the Member for Monfwi, I asked the Member to withdraw his remarks and apologize to the House. When the Member for Monfwi rose to speak, he noted that Tlicho interpretation was unavailable and raised this point of privilege.
Clearly, this point was raised at the earliest opportunity.
Next, I must consider whether a prima facie breach of privilege has occurred.
Colleagues, the use and preservation of all of our official languages are issues of great importance to the people of the Northwest Territories, to this Legislative Assembly, and to me as Speaker.
In fact, this issue is of such great importance, it is written in the preamble of our Official Languages Act, which states: "...preserving the use of official languages, and enhancing those languages, is a shared responsibility of language communities, the Legislative Assembly, and the Government of the Northwest Territories."
This responsibility is one I take seriously. We have increased our capacity to provide interpretation in all of our official languages. Our languages are an important part of our shared culture and heritage, and their use and preservation is vital to reconciliation.
Compared with our recent past, this Assembly has greatly increased our investment in, and commitment to our official languages. We have more interpreters, representing more of our official languages, working longer hours. We are making efforts to share our interpreted proceedings via our broadcasting and social media networks. Although it can be quite challenging to find qualified interpreters in some of our official languages, yesterday we were able to provide interpretation in seven official languages.
I also note that a Tlicho interpreter was scheduled to provide service yesterday. However, due to an illness, they were unable to attend. We were provided notice of this illness less than an hour before the start of our proceedings. It was unfortunate, but I feel it is important to note that the lack of Tlicho interpretation yesterday was an exceptional circumstance.
I would also like to comment on the timing of my rulings. Due to the absence of the Member for Monfwi late last week and the absence of the Premier for the rest of this week, I made the decision to deliver my rulings yesterday.
Colleagues, the improvements related to interpretation in our official languages made in this Assembly are a continuation of the work done in the previous Assembly. The work was begun under the direction and guidance of the Member for Monfwi when he served as Speaker. I understand that this is an issue of great importance, and I thank him for being a champion for our languages.
A similar situation occurred during our 11th Legislative Assembly. On October 26, 1989, day 7 of the 5th session of the 11th Legislative Assembly, the Member Rae Lac La Marte spoke in an official language for which interpretation was not available. Another Member rose on a point of order. Then Speaker Nerysoo adjourned the House until such a time as interpretation could be provided. In his decision to adjourn for the day, Speaker Nerysoo noted that the rules of the Legislative Assembly at that time expressly provided that a Member had the "right to speak and be understood in his own language."
Our current rules are silent on the right to use and be understood in our official languages. However, the Official Languages Act provides that everyone has the right to use an official language in the debates and other proceedings of the Legislative Assembly. Colleagues, I find that there has been a prima facie breach of privilege in this case. In other words, at first glance, the matter appears to be related to privilege. Given this ruling, I will now entertain any motions. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.