Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ontario Court Interpreters

This is the last of my posts about the Shafia case for the time being. The preliminary hearing has finished. Now we have to await the trial itself, but don’t hold your breath - it isn’t expected to start until next year.

I want to repeat what I said last time, namely that what I’m writing here casts no aspersion on the performance of the Shafia court interpreters, whose work hasn’t been challenged. There are some very good court interpreters in Ontario.

The body that accredits freelance court interpreters in Ontario is the Court Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario (MAG), which maintains a Registry of them. By coincidence, I happen to have received a recruitment ad from the Ministry just recently that sets forth the requirements:
Have high proficiency in English and in another language
• Pass the Court Interpreter Test in his or her language
• Attend a training seminar
• Pass a written test in court procedure and interpreter ethics
• Complete a Canadian Police Information Centre criminal record check.
No educational, training or experience prerequisites, and subsequent training limited to a single seminar. Still, there is the Court Interpreter Test plus the exam in court procedure. I enquired and was told by the Coordinator at MAG that the Test is now administered in both consecutive and simultaneous.

Curiously the ad makes no mention of the Certified Court Interpreter title that can be obtained through the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario by passing a national court interpreter examination, even though the title is protected by Ontario law. Well, perhaps there aren’t any nationally certified interpreters available for Farsi/Dari anyway.

So anybody bilingual can apply to MAG. Ah, but there’s the Test! Here’s what came out in a 2005 court case:
Superior Court Justice Hill made a close and detailed examination in R. v. Sidhu which revealed a slew of problems with the system of accrediting and assigning court interpreters in Ontario.
One of the witnesses in Sidhu was Shamin Jhooty, an accredited court interpreter trained (N.B. trained) in a distant part of Canada, British Columbia.
The procedure in British Columbia is particularly admirable. In Sidhu, Jhooty indicated that in B.C., she had been required to pass a three-hour exam that tested her knowledge in both English and her second language (Punjabi) prior to her entrance in a 10-month college program, where she was taught simultaneous, consecutive, and sight interpretation skills through various methods of teaching including mock trial exercises.
The programme referred to is the one dispensed by Vancouver Community College. It’s been in existence and has been continuously developed for more than three decades. In contrast,
To become an accredited interpreter in Ontario, one must pass the Standard Test for Court Interpretation, which Jhooty described as being “at best . . . an aptitude test to see [if] someone has a knack for maybe transferring languages”, that required a “tourist level” of language skills in both English and the second language “No legal terminology is included in the test. Those who pass the test must take a basic one-day training workshop. Upon completion of the workshop, there is a brief written test consisting of ten questions, of which the candidate must correctly answer seven in order to become an accredited interpreter".
In other words, the Test is (or was at the time of Sidhu) at Natural Translation level, and the training workshop will not of itself turn out Expert Interpreters. Hopefully they become Experts with experience.

Why this wide gap between the requirements in Ontario and in British Columbia? To understand this, you have to know that the administration of the courts, except at the highest level like the Supreme Court, is the responsibility of each province in Canada. It’s not national, so there’s no national standard for court interpreting, and the Canadian provinces are notoriously jealous of their autonomy.

Regina Lee. Protecting the right to interpreter assistance. The Court (Osgood Hall Law School, Toronto), January 17, 2009.

R. v. Sidhu, 2005 CanLII 42491.

Isabelle Chow, Interpreter Test Project Coordinator, Court Interpretation Unit, Ministry of the Attorney General, Toronto. Personal communication. March 2010.

Vancouver Community College (Vancouver, British Columbia). Interpreting Programs.

Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario. What is a court interpreter?


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