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Having 9-1-1 service in the NWT in all 11 official languages does not mean having a dispatch centre full of translators around the clock. So said Ashley Geraghty, the territorial government’s point man on the proposed emergency service.

The point man for the GNWT’s 9-1-1 implementation says the service will be offered in all 11 of the territory’s official languages. Ashley Geraghty says that a service called CanTalk will provide translators just as quickly as a dispatcher can get them on the phone line. 9-1-1 service is expected to be up and running across the NWT by 2019. Photo courtesy of Ashley Geraghty

By next month, the department is expected to “decide on a final operational model and implementation plan,” said Cochrane. “At this time, I am happy to confirm the Northwest Territories 911 program is on track to go live for every community by summer 2019.”

Geraghty, MACA’s 9-1-1 program manager, said that the government will be tapping into a service called CanTalk which he said is already used by the GNWT for translation services. He said when someone calls 9-1-1 and a translator is needed – a conference call is immediately established.

“Any language the dispatcher wouldn’t know or even recognize, they would call into the call translator who would help translate the call – all three people would be on the call together,” Geraghty said. “From a technical perspective it’s very easy.”

Geraghty said most people in the NWT who do not use English as their first language, particularly out in the communities, can in most cases convey to someone what language they are speaking. He does not think that will be an impediment to quick service.

Geraghty said the system is somewhat similar to one used currently by Stanton Territorial Hospital for translation services. He added that he believes subscribing to the CanTalk service has been included in the overall cost of implementing and operating 9-1-1 services.

Geraghty said where to find the people who can interpret relatively rare languages such as Inuinnaqtun or South Slavey will be CanTalk’s responsibility..He acknowledged that some of the official languages in the NWT are only spoken in the NWT.

“There are some translators here who already provide services to the GNWT. We (the government) would not have someone on shift, on call 24 hours a day,” Geraghty said. “If we have dispatchers who can speak the language then they will.”

Geraghty said he realizes that having a translator available immediately is crucial to an effective 9-1-1 service but added he is confident CanTalk can do that. Indeed, on its website, CanTalk promotes real time translations.

He added that he prefers not to use the term on-call when it comes to interpreters, saying it has a different meaning when it comes to government workers. He said translators will be available through the CanTalk service in all nine official Indigenous languages in the NWT 24/7.

The 9-!-! service will be provided with Northwestel. It has not yet been established how much the service will add to phone bills.

In February, the territorial government announced it was intending to spend $616,000 in one-time funding to implement a basic 9-1-1 service. That funding would go toward staff training and retrofitting infrastructure. It is not clear at this time how much it would cost annually to run 9-1-1 service for fire, medical and police across the territory.

Last year, Northwestel’s parent company Bell, lost a class action lawsuit launched by two Yellowknife men. James and Samuel Anderson successfully argued that Bell Mobility should not have charged customers 75 cents a month for years for a 9-1-1 service that simply did not exist. The Supreme Court of Canada agreed with the Andersons.

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