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Court interpreting in Manitoba

Anne Dubouloz Gislason
Translation Services
Manitoba Department of Culture, Heritage and Tourism


Many countries subscribe to some form of agreement guaranteeing human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right of every person to a fair trial. The provisions of these agreements are naturally implemented by the legislative branches of these countries' governments, which consider it essential for citizens to have free access to an interpreter to ensure respect for certain fundamental principles: non-discrimination with regard to language, equality before the law and respect for the rights of the defence.

In Canada, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants every citizen the right to the services of an interpreter during court proceedings. Interpretation is thus an important element in the administration of justice in Canada and must therefore be accurate, regardless of whether the defendant is represented by a lawyer. This service must be provided by a professional who is able to give a complete interpretation using simultaneous or consecutive interpretation methods, as required, or sight translation. It is the responsibility of the court to verify the competence and impartiality of each interpreter even before the interpreter is sworn in.

In Manitoba, for all languages other than Canada's official languages, the courts rely on the Immigration Centre, which has a language bank. Interpretation services in Canada's official languages are provided by interpreters from the Government of Manitoba's Translation Services.

The three interpreters who work at Translation Services supply interpretation services for the entire province. These professionals provide simultaneous interpretation (at conferences and public hearings, for example), consecutive interpretation (in courts and administrative tribunals) and escort interpretation (principally for foreign delegations visiting the province).

Court interpreting is intensive and sometimes lengthy work. Everything that is said during a hearing must be interpreted as precisely as possible in both of the languages used in the court. The interpreters must have a thorough knowledge not only of the judicial process but also of the different aspects of the case being heard. As part of their preparation, they may create glossaries. The interpreters work in teams of two, taking turns interpreting (in sessions of 20 to 30 minutes) and assisting the interpreter on duty.

The role of court interpreters has evolved in Manitoba. In the 1980s, access to interpreters permitted a defendant, often bilingual, to avail himself of his constitutional right to be heard in the language of his choice. Over the last ten years, Manitoba's Francophone population has undergone a transformation. Each year, Manitoba welcomes hundreds of immigrants from Francophone countries, who may have only a rudimentary knowledge of English. When these new Canadians have to appear in court as a witness, a victim or a defendant, they can rely on an interpreter to make themselves understood. This new reality makes the presence of interpreters essential and most certainly has an impact on their work.