New ruling shows continuing gap in court interpretation services

Even interpreters accredited under Ontario’s new model aren’t always up to the job, according to a judge who declared a mistrial in a case that highlights the continued gap in court interpretation services.

In R. v. Douglas and Bryan last week, Superior Court Justice Clayton Conlan declared a mistrial following a defence application alleging incomplete and inaccurate interpretation services. One of the people accused on a single charge of importing cocaine, Michael Bryan, had been answering questions through an interpreter qualified under Ontario’s new model for accreditation. As concerns mounted over the quality of the interpretation, the court conducted a voir dire on the issue.

The voir dire included testimony from a second interpreter without accreditation, Damian Brown, who had been present during the proceedings and first notified counsel about his concerns with the interpretation services. “I accept the uncontradicted evidence of Mr. Brown that the interpreter, at times, omitted words spoken by Mr. Bryan in his testimony; that the interpreter, at times, added words that were not spoken by Mr. Bryan; and that the interpreter, at times, wrongly interpreted words spoken by Mr. Bryan,” wrote Conlan in his April 24 reasons for decision on the mistrial.

Even a juror noticed the problem, according to Conlan. One of them, he said, passed him a note expressing concern. “The note asked that I direct the interpreter to stop paraphrasing and start interpreting verbatim.

“Obviously, one or more than one member of the jury is/are conversant enough in Jamaican Patois to recognize that the interpretation was poor. I now have good reason to conclude that, in essence, not every one of these twelve ladies and gentlemen has heard the same evidence.”

In the end, Conlan decided the deficiencies had compromised Bryan’s rights under s. 14 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He concluded by expressing shock at the lack of options when it comes to interpreters, an issue that has arisen repeatedly over the years in light of concerns over the quality of services with scores of interpreters having failed to achieve full accreditation through the new process the government introduced in response. Many of interpreters have achieved only conditional accreditation, while others remain unaccredited with their ability to provide services in a matter subject to the court’s discretion. And as Conlan’s ruling shows, even some accredited interpreters struggle to do the job properly.

“I was advised that no other Jamaican Patois accredited interpreter could be found to replace the one who assisted Mr. Bryan, except a lady who works on weekends,” wrote Conlan.

“That is not much assistance to the court.

“I am shocked that, in a jurisdiction like Brampton, with the diverse population and the criminal caseload including narcotics matters involving Pearson International Airport, the availability of accredited Jamaican Patois interpreters is so slim.”

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