Friday, April 18, 2008

$35 Million Class Action Lawsuit Over Interpreters

The costs of providing interpreting services, especially in public and social settings, are highlighted on a near-daily basis in the news.

But what are the costs of not providing access to competent interpreting services?

In Canada, a recent $35-million class-action lawsuit alleges that incompetent court interpreters were provided, resulting in the miscarriage of justice.

Here is a telling excerpt from a newspaper report on the class action suit:

In the review that followed, Judge Hill found that the courthouse had been using interpreters so poorly qualified they routinely failed the provincial accreditation test and in some instances may not have been able even to read the language they were being paid to translate. One Hindi-speaking woman, for instance, was hired at the Brampton courthouse as a Punjabi-speaking interpreter; the interpreter co-ordinator who assigned her told Judge Hill she considered weekend bail court to be "a game."

Communicating the key information that determines whether a person is sent to jail or will be free on bail... likened to a game?

While those of us in the profession balk at such statements, they are reflective of the tremendous lack of public awareness of the important role interpreters play in society, not to mention the great risks assumed when unqualified individuals do this work.

One would think that a $71 million lawsuit provoked when a healthy young boy became quadriplegic due to an unqualified interpreter would be sufficient to make the public aware of the dangers of using non-professionals for this risky work.

However, decades after that landmark case, hospitals continue to use non-professional interpreters. Things are changing, but progress is slow. Will the same hold true in the Canadian courts? Time will tell, and the outcome of this case may hold some clues as to what will happen next.

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