A very interesting read from Lawyer's Weekly re Bill C-232, which provides that in the future, judges of the Supreme Court of Canada must understand English and French without the assistance of an interpreter. My favorite bit is on the accuracy of translations:
So let’s have a closer look at the accuracy of the interpretation at Supreme Court hearings. I argued a case last month in the Supreme Court. When I said, in French, “The Gosset case affirmed the principle of full compensation of the injury”, the interpreter translated “Gosset says that there has to be comprehensive damage”. When I wanted to contrast the civil law and the common law, which adopt different positions on the compensation of grief, I said, in French, that “at common law grief is not compensable”. The interpreter omitted to translate “at common law”, making it sound as if the statement related to the civil law, thus inserting a contradiction in the English version of my argument. Other examples of errors are the translation of “droit commun” (which means general law) by “common law” (a totally different concept), saying that one’s rights were not breached without specifying that I was talking about “Charter rights”, which makes my argument incomprehensible, or saying that the second paragraph of article 1610 of the Civil Code was not applicable when I said that it was.
Overall, the interpretation was good, but inconsistencies, incomplete statements and, indeed, errors such as these necessarily affect the force and the logic of the oral arguments presented. A legal argument is like a chain: if one piece breaks, the whole thing falls apart. Legal language is highly technical and cannot suffer from imprecision.
Yet, I was lucky, as all the members of my seven-judge bench understood French and did not rely on the interpretation provided. Michel Doucet, who argued Charlebois v. St. John (City) in 2005 before a full bench that included Justice Major, was not so lucky. He was shocked when he listened to the English version of his argument on CPAC. The interpreter distorted the meaning of several sentences, omitted a reference to a section of the Charter, and totally omitted to translate a sentence.
Lawyers who appear before the Supreme Court finely hone their arguments and rehearse several times. Each sentence is carefully crafted, especially as time is short. It is not too much to ask that judges understand all the subtlety and the nuance of what is being said, in the language in which it is said.
By the way, if C-232 is considered "well-intentioned", and most people seem to feel that it is, why not ask to Senate to slap a delayed implementation date on it--say 8 years down the road (undergrad degree plus 4 years law school)--so that the current crop of unilinguals get a chance to serve but the next generation of lawyers with SC ambitions can train up to the level required?