Thursday, June 2, 2011

Update on the Shafia Murder Case

Long-time readers who followed my posts about the Shafia family murder hearings in the spring of 2010 (to find them, enter shafia in the Search box) may perhaps be wondering what’s happened to the case since then.

Well, there was another preliminary hearing at Kingston, Ontario, last autumn. By then, there had clearly been concern to improve the working conditions for the court interpreters, something which I criticised last year. Better booths had been installed for the simultaneous interpretation, and they were better situated:
“Two translation booths, each capable of holding two interpreters, were erected on a large raised platform to the left of the judge. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of infra-red transmitters and receivers are in place, allowing everyone in the courtroom to listen to the simultaneous interpretation on wireless headsets."
Nonetheless, the start of the hearing was again troubled by interpretation woes; this time, not the fault of the interpreters but of the electronic equipment, so that recourse was eventually had to the traditional mode of in-court consecutive interpreting:
“A French-speaking Montreal police officer was the first witness. As she began testifying, it was soon obvious the French interpreter wasn't able to operate the equipment to ensure that English translations were transmitted properly. A technician rushed to the booth to help him, but after several failed attempts to sort out the problem, Lacelle [one of the prosecutors] suggested a low-tech solution. 'Your honour, I wonder if it might be more efficient to adopt the approach we had before,' she said. With that, the interpreter left the booth and stood next to the witness. He translated English and French by listening to the people on both sides of him.”
Which goes to show that SI equipment should always be tested immediately before the start of a session either by a technician or by the interpreters themselves. Even five minutes is long enough for it to develop a bug.

Anyway, a trial date was set for this spring. However, one of the accused decided to change his lawyer at the last moment, and the new lawyer asked the judge for more time to prepare. As a result, the trial has been postponed until, provisionally, October 11. Meanwhile the accused languish in prison.

They aren’t the only ones. In January, in Toronto, a judge of the Supreme Court of the same province, Ontario, refused the Crown's (i.e., the prosecution's) request to order separate trials for two men jointly accused of conspiracy to murder, because a qualified Arabic interpreter couldn't be found for one of them. As a result, the trial, originally set to begin in January 2011, won't start until January 2012. “The prosecution has had more than a year to find an interpreter,” the judge said. "A qualified Arabic interpreter should have been identified and arranged." But there’s only one accredited Arabic court interpreter for all Ontario and he’s not available for long trials.

The crisis in Ontario court interpreting has arisen because the province’s justice administration is running scared of a mistrial being declared due to poor interpreting. They've already had a bad experience. So now they insist on accreditation by means of a stiff examination. But they haven’t prepared the ground, as they should have done years ago, by getting together with the community colleges and the universities to sponsor adequate training programmes and by giving scholarships to promising candidates.

Rob Tripp. Translation woes snarl start of murder case. Edmonton Sun, October 5, 2010.
Rob Tripp is the crime reporter who’s been reporting the Shafia proceedings from the beginning, and who, in the course of them, has developed an awareness of the interpretation component. The three languages involved are English, French, and Dari (an Afghan dialect of Persian).

Patrick F. D. McCann. Canal mass murder trial delayed by surprise firing of lawyer. McCann & Lyttle, February 21, 2011.

Arabic interpreter shortage delays trial for a year. Empowerlingua, January 26, 2011.

The Shafia case has attained such notoriety that it already has its page in Wikipedia. There are also some posts on YouTube that are shocking for their presumption of guilt and their eagerness to assume it was an honour killing.

Image: An Expert Court Interpreter ‘listening to the people on both sides of her’ and taking notes. From www.,

No comments:

Post a Comment