Last Updated on February 5, 2011 by Steven Meurrens
People appearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board come from all over the world, and often communicate in a language that their counsel, the hearings officers, and members do not understand. Accordingly, translators and interpreters are often used during IRB proceedings.
Translators and interpreters have a very serious and important role in proceedings.
Section 14 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides that a party or witness to any proceeding who does not understand or speak the language in which the proceeding is conducted or who is deaf has the right to the assistance of an interpreter. This section applies to immigration and other administrative proceedings. (Umubyeyi v. Canada). Accordingly, the IRB and the courts take the right to proper interpretation seriously.
A person appearing before the IRB has a right to an interpretation that is continuous, precise, competent, impartial, and contemporaneous (Mohammadian). An applicant does not have the burden to show that a determinative prejudice arises from a breach of his Charter right to such interpretation.
In Xu v. Canada, the Federal Court noted:
As important as this right is, the burden on a person raising interpretation issues is significant. Such a claim must overcome the presumption that a translator, who has taken an oath to provide faithful translation, has acted in a manner contrary to the oath. Simply alleging mistranslation will not be sufficient – the burden is to show that on a balance of probabilities mistranslation occurred.
I speak Mandarin, Chinese. I remember observing a spousal-sponsorship appeal before the Immigration Appeal Division. The spouse’s lawyer, the hearings officer, and the member did not speak Mandarin. The only individuals in the room that understood Mandarin were myself, the husband, and an interpreter. During the telephone cross-examination of the wife, the interpreter made a mistake that could have been fatal to the appeal. Luckily, the husband immediately started objecting, the translator acknowledged that a mistake may have been made, referred to a dictionary, and corrected it.
The importance of having people in the room to make sure that a case does not fall due to poor translating really cannot be overstated.