Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Restarting a career in a new land

The role of certified translators and certified court interpreters in Canada's administration of justice

Fariborz Khasha, NP, C.CRT.I., C.T., Society of Translators and Interpreters of British Columbia (STIBC)
Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council


In September 1998, about a year after landing in the beautiful province of British Columbia with my wife and our two then‑preteen children as immigrants from Iran, I received my first Canadian professional credential—Certified Court Interpreter. The certificate was issued to me by the Society of Translators and Interpreters of British Columbia (STIBC) after I passed a two‑stage Farsi‑English language combination proficiency exam, oral and written.

The occupational title designation of Certified Court Interpreter (C.CRT.I.) is protected, reserved exclusively for STIBC members under British Columbia's Society Act, as are the associated titles of Certified Translator (C.T.), Certified Conference Interpreter (C.C.I.), and Certified Terminologist (C.TERM). The overall membership of STIBC consists of approximately 300 certified translators and interpreters in more than 80 language combinations.

Earlier in 1998, I had passed another language proficiency and translation skill test, conducted by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB)—the nation's largest administrative tribunal with decision‑making powers over immigration and refugee matters. And thus began a fresh restart of my translation career in Canada—my family's new cherished home. Farsi (also known as Persian) is primarily spoken in Iran as that country's official language. Licensed as an "Official Translator" by Iran's Justice Ministry in 1983, in the years before immigrating to Canada, I owned and operated a reputable translation business in the capital city of Tehran.

Soon after arriving in British Columbia in July 1997, I was able to identify the path for pursuit of an identical career in a different setting. The attainment of IRB and STIBC credentials a year later enabled me to begin offering professional translation and interpreting services to various federal and provincial government entities. They include Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Translation Bureau of Public Works and Government Services Canada, the BC Ministry of Attorney General's Court Services Branch, the BC Provincial Nominee Program, and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. In addition, I have been working with numerous BC law firms and individual clients who require written or oral translation of legal and academic documents and judicial proceedings. And in May 2004, I was honoured to receive a permanent commission from the Supreme Court of British Columbia to become a BC Notary Public.

Court interpreters and the Canadian Charter of Rights

Under the subheading of "Legal Rights," the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms devotes a definitive clause signifying the crucial role of court interpreters in attainment of proper and fair administration of justice. Section 14 of the Charter states, "A party or witness in any proceedings who does not understand or speak the language in which the proceedings are conducted or who is deaf has the right to the assistance of an interpreter." The Charter hence guarantees an individual's right to due process and meaningful presence in the entire course of judicial proceedings of which the individual is a part.

Is interpreting as simple as it may seem?

While it may appear to some a simple task, interpreting—particularly when conducted in a courtroom or tribunal setting with various participants who at times might all be speaking over each other's voices—can be an exceedingly complex and demanding process. It requires thorough knowledge of two languages and two cultures, and a highly developed set of cognitive abilities like listening, understanding and memory, as well as the linguistic skills necessary to process the words to be interpreted. The interpreter must be able to think quickly on his or her feet! One essential aspect of an interpreter's work is to conserve sociolinguistic elements such as the language level, style, tone, and intent of the speaker when converting words from the source to the target language. The delicate interaction of those elements adds to the complexity of an interpreter's performance. The professional interpreter must identify and simultaneously analyze all the aspects of the two languages involved and make choices—on the spot—to come up with terminology on which lives and property may depend. Judges play a key role in overseeing this process. There have been instances of declared mistrials due to inadequate interpretation that breached Section 14 of the Charter. For example, in R. v. Tran [1994] S.C.J. No. 16, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial after it was found that an interpreter was only summarizing evidence rather than giving a full translation.

Code of Ethics for language professionals in BC

In Canada there is no specific legislation on a federal or provincial level that would regulate the work of certified translators and court interpreters. Major users of such language services, like Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Translation Bureau, and the BC Ministry of Attorney General, however, have compiled variations of industry‑standard rules and regulations that apply to all their translator/interpreter contractors. In British Columbia, the STIBC is the primary entity that promotes the interests of translators and interpreters with a view to serving the public. Incorporated in 1981, it is a non‑profit professional association and a major component of an umbrella organization on a national level known as the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council (CTTIC), which is in turn a member of the FIT (International Federation of Translators), the global body of language professionals. The realization of STIBC's core mission lies in its entire membership (of both certified and associate status) agreeing to observe the Society's Code of Ethics, as well as adhering to a scrupulous system of certification for translators and interpreters.

Translators and the surge of multiculturalism in Canada

In October 2011, Statistics Canada released its latest data from its 2011 census. This data highlighted what CBC News termed the country's surge in bilingualism, but not necessarily in the two official languages. Instead, the census report put the spotlight on some 200 languages that depict Canada's linguistic landscape. Accordingly, 17.5 percent—5.8 million—of the country's population speaks at least two languages at home. That represents an increase of 1.3 million people as compared to the 2006 census. Other estimates put the number of people in Canada who are unable to speak either of the official languages at more than 520,000. This stark reality reinforces the concern that a considerable segment of the Canadian population may be denied access to the justice system. Certainly the training and accreditation of a much greater number of professional translators and interpreters in multiple language disciplines who are able to provide their services throughout the country is one way of addressing this rising concern.