Lost in translation: Why the city’s 2020 waste management calendar is creating lots of confusion

The city’s 2020 waste management calendar, which was mailed out to hundreds of thousands of homes, attempts to be inclusive by providing information in English, French, Tamil, Chinese, Spanish, and Portuguese. Instead it’s creating a lot of confusion, particularly for members of Toronto’s Tamil community.

What was supposed to be information written in Tamil is actually just a bunch of gibberish.

“We see many places, the order of the letters are mixed up; and then in some places we see letters that don’t exist in the Tamil alphabet,” said Neethan Shan, the executive director at the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.

“It’s insulting. Many of our communities have faced huge amounts of discrimination and loss of life trying to protect our languages. It also sends the wrong message to the community that the language is not respected.”

CBC Toronto has confirmed there are also issues with the Farsi translation in the calendar. A section that claims to be written in Farsi script, which is the Persian alphabet, is actually written mostly in Arabic font.

‘A typesetting error,’ city says

City spokesperson Brad Ross acknowledged the errors in a statement to CBC News.

“A typesetting error has resulted in incorrect Tamil and Farsi translations in the city’s 2020 waste collection calendars and incorrect Tamil translation in the recent winter operations direct mail,” Ross wrote.

“The city apologizes for these errors and is immediately taking the necessary steps to ensure that translations are proofread and verified in final layout prior to being printed so such errors never happen again.”

The city didn’t mention issues with any of the other translations, but a CBC employee who is originally from China and fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, said the Chinese doesn’t come across as professionally translated, and appears to be written by a non-native Chinese speaker.

Ross said providing correct information in languages other than English allows diverse communities in Toronto to better access city services and programs, helps improve engagement with the city, and fosters inclusion for residents, groups and organizations.

Engage proofreaders from each community

Moving forward, Shan believes the city should have members of each community proofread the information before it is printed and sent out.

“When you print tens of thousands of copies with errors, it’s not something that can be easily explained as an error for one of the largest governments in North America,” Shan said.


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