UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

English as a second language problem in the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms Krasnick, Harry


A research project was designed to identify and analyze the issues which are involved in guaranteeing the equal protection of the law in Canada with respect to the right to be informed of the right to counsel upon detention or arrest and the right to the assistance of an interpreter in legal proceedings in the case of non-native speakers of English. A comparative, multidisciplinary study design allowed the differences among social science views, practitioners' commonsensical knowledge, and legal viewpoints as expressed in reported judgements to be identified. Each of the three sources of viewpoints on cross-cultural interrogation and courtroom interaction was examined with a view to determining the range of phenomena recognized. The study did not attempt to evaluate the social science studies on their own terms, measure the distribution of commonsense knowledge among practitioners, or determine the state of the law on any particular point. The goal was rather to compare the breadth of the legal system's vision with that of social scientists and practitioners, in order to determine whether there will be a need to supplement the court's view. The results suggested that court interpreters vary greatly in their overall competence, including language ability, and in their understanding of what their role is. Training and certification of court interpreters appears to be the only solution which will satisfy the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. Informing the suspect of his right to counsel presents substantial linguistic and cultural problems, only some of which are addressed by the courts. In legal proceedings, the right to the assistance of an interpreter raises fundamental questions concerning the point at which the right to an interpreter arises and how entitlement is to be determined. Practical solutions implied by the research include establishing a bilingual courtroom observer program to safeguard against inadequte interpretation going unnoticed; cautioning the suspect as to his right to counsel in his native language rather than in English, perhaps through audio tape recordings; and establishing a combination translation and legal advice center which could be contacted by calling a toll-free telephone number such as 800-ESL-HELP.

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