Superior Court Justice Casey Hill declared a mistrial in a sexual assault case against Vishnu Dutt Sharma, an Indian citizen on a work permit in Canada, because the interpreter’s Hindi interpretation of the proceedings was poor and substandard, according to court documents.
TORONTO – A “physical” assault is not the same as a “sexual” assault. Touching “between legs” is not the same as touching the “genital area.” And “a couple of weeks” is definitely not “two days.”
But a Hindi interpreter mistranslated those phrases exactly that way in a sexual assault case in Brampton, triggering a mistrial and sending ripples through the GTA legal community, reported the Toronto Star newspaper.
Superior Court Justice Casey Hill declared a mistrial in a case against Vishnu Dutt Sharma, an Indian citizen on a work permit in Canada, because the interpreter’s Hindi interpretation of the proceedings was poor and substandard, according to court documents.
“In this case, the non-English-speaker was prejudiced by a denial of full linguistic presence at his trial on April 27, 2011, on account of pervasive departure from the guaranteed standard of interpretation to which he was constitutionally entitled, and in particular during the very details of the complainant’s factual allegations of sexual assault,” Hill said.
Stories about the shortage of accredited interpreters are common in courthouses in Canada.
What is unusual in this case is that audiotapes from cross-examination were sent to an expert in the United States, who, in a scathing report, said the interpreter “did not interpret verbatim, summarized most of the proceedings and was not able to interpret everything that was said on the record.”
Umesh Passi, a member of the New York State Bar, said the interpreter spoke “perfect Hindi but could not keep up with the required for simultaneous interpretation.”
Passi’s report included a 182-page transcription of each question, answer or submission followed by his interpretation of the interpreter’s Hindi words.
Court documents don’t identify the interpreter; only her initials, A.K., are used.
Prashant Rai, Dutt’s lawyer, is fluent in Hindi and says that helped bring the problem to the forefront. The court may not have become aware of the inaccuracies otherwise, he added.
“She spoke well in Hindi … I don’t know what happened while interpreting,” Rai said.
Brendan Crawley, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, said an interpreter can be scheduled for work while a complaint is under review.
A.K. also failed to show up a couple of times due to illness; the court services supervisor said she had been asking for more money.
Pat Band, a director with the Criminal Lawyers’ Association of Toronto, called the situation with interpreters “a crisis. There aren’t enough accredited interpreters and the standards (of interpreting) are almost impossible to tell.”
He also pointed out there is no way to find out from the ministry if an interpreter was deemed incompetent anywhere else in the province.
“There are too many problems.”
There are 171 accredited and 290 conditionally accredited interpreters in the Toronto area. They serve a population of 1.5 million residents who regularly speak neither English nor French at home. Of that number, at least 200,000 can’t hold a conversation in either language.
Recruitment is ongoing in commonly used languages such as Punjabi, Korean, Tamil, Mandarin and Vietnamese, said Crawley, who added that potential interpreters are being recruited among international students at universities, law schools and professional organizations.
There are just two accredited Portuguese-language interpreters, one Pashto and one Tamil. There are none in Korean, Filipino, Sudanese Arabic or Swedish.
Courtesy Toronto Star