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The Criminal Lawyers’ Association stands with the freelance Court Interpreters of Ontario in their demands for fair treatment.

The Criminal Lawyers’ Association stands with the freelance Court Interpreters of Ontario in their demands for fair treatment.

While protests outside the Courthouses have occurred and some press attention has resulted this is a critical issue to the administration of justice in Ontario which must be addressed.

Interpreters are an integral part of our justice system as they play a vitally important role which ensures full participation in matters before the Courts. They are essentially connected to the equity we wish to engender within our justice system, interpreting for defendants, complainants, and witnesses.

Canada’s constitution guarantees a defendant the right to a fair trial which includes the right to accurate interpretation services.

Words matter. Particularly with the lifelong serious consequences of a criminal trial.

Criminal cases often turn on credibility findings. That means that conveying an accurate rendition of witness testimony can ultimately affect the outcome of a case. In this sense, the importance of the job of the interpreter cannot be understated. It requires both skill and integrity.

The vast majority of qualified court interpreters in Ontario are freelancers. They are paid $30 dollars an hour and, in stark contrast to staff interpreters who are not part of this job action, they have no access to benefits, paid vacation, sick days, job security or a pension. They also do not earn a daily living wage. Their hours are unpredictable, and court bookings are inconsistent, resulting in continuous uncertainty around regular earnings. These conditions also limit their ability to commit their services to trials, especially long trials.

They are protesting because The Ministry of the Attorney General who employs them has refused to engage with their request for just pay. They have no other recourse. Other court staff are unionized. Judges and Crown Attorneys have access to binding arbitration through their unions when disputes arise, including those centered on pay. Recently, an arbitration ruling resulted in a pay increase for judges of the Ontario Court of Justice, giving them essentially the same compensation as Superior Court Justices.

Freelance interpreters are not unionized. They have no systemic process in place to adjudicate grievances and there has been no commitment to raise pay rates to even the 1% current Provincial wage cap for well over a decade. Their counterparts in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec are paid significantly more. They deserve more.

This strike has particular significance for Greater Toronto due to its multi-cultural demographics. Courts in the GTA are the highest users of interpreters in Ontario. Limiting access to competent interpreters by failing to create avenues to keep them in business reinforces systemic racism on two fronts. Most interpreters are originally immigrants, and largely people of color, as are the those who require their support. Interpreters are being subject to inequitable pay practices.

It is the responsibility of the Attorney General, Mr. Downey, to ensure fairness in our justice system for all Ontarians regardless of their language.

The Criminal Lawyers’ Association recognizes the critical importance of professional, independent, and certified interpretation.

We support our interpreter colleagues in their efforts to establish a process by which fair compensation can be determined objectively. They deserve better.

John Struthers
President
Criminal Lawyers’ Association

52 responses to “The Criminal Lawyers’ Association stands with the freelance Court Interpreters of Ontario in their demands for fair treatment.”

  1. Paula Lorenzini fully accredited court interpreter for Italian and French says:

    Thank you so much for supporting freelance accredited court interpreters. It’s been since 2010 thatwe didn’t get any raise. Furthermore, the starving wages and occasional bookings are sporadic.

  2. Florinda Peschisolido says:

    We appreciate your support.
    MAG has always decided what interpreters should earn and their fees for mileage and meals, much like their own employees. We are treated as employees despite the fact we are told we are independent contractors.
    Despite the Court Interpreters Association of Ontario’s several communications with the Attorney General’s office and Court Interpreters Unit for the past three years, our efforts have fallen on deaf ears. Court Interpreters became insensed and decided the only thing that would get MAG’s attention was a work action. Interpreters did not make this decision lightly.

  3. PCIO – Professional Court Interpreters of Ontario is deeply grateful to the Criminal Lawyers’ Association for standing with us in our quest for fair compensation and better working conditions, in line with other Canadian provinces, and market conditions.
    We truly appreciate having such a powerful voice speak in support of all court interpreters in Ontario.
    Many of us came from despotic countries where fear of raising one’s voice for justice, or organizing had dire consequences. As you correctly pointed out, as independent contractors, it has been difficult for interpreters to organize and demand redress. But now, after more than a decade of stagnant pay and worsening working conditions, we have reached a point of no return.
    On behalf of PCIO, thank you for your support!

  4. Manuel Costa says:

    Thank you for your support. We need all the help we can get, although MAG seems to be regularly accepting our new Terms & Conditions, with improved fees, new cancellation terms, 2 accredited interpreters in trials, etc.
    This will hopefully attract new qualified people to the profession.

  5. Emeline Thermidor says:

    Mr Struthers, we are very grateful for the support of the Criminal Lawyers’Association. Your keen understanding of many of our working conditions and challenges makes us proud to be part of the Ontario Justice system. Many of us have been freelancers with the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario – and Fully Accredited Interpreters – between 10 and 25 years, at least.Your support is precious and essential to ensure, as you stated, that MAG recognize the critical importance of professional, independent and certified interpretation. It is an honor to be considered a fellow colleague. Thank you again for your timely kind words and submissions on behalf of the Professional Court Interpreters of Ontario.

  6. Joti Sidhu says:

    Thank you to the most amazing Michelle Johal & Mr.Struthers for all of your support! We hope to see some progress & good results for us interpreters soon!

  7. The Court Interpreters’ Association of Ontario appreciates your support Mr Struthers.
    A heartfelt thank you from the board members of CIAO.

  8. Eric Snyder says:

    Without highly skilled interpreters, persons who have limited proficiency in English or French, or fear complex legal terminology, would not be able to properly participate in their matters in court, and the courts would not be able to communicate with them.

    This is good for Ontario.

  9. Anser farooq says:

    I have practiced criminal law for 20 years and dealt with interpreters throughout those years. I am fluent in Urdu and Punjabi. I would not step into the shoes of an interpreter even for $50.00.per hour.
    To say that their job is integral to the administration of law where the accused or witnesses require interpretation is not an overstatement.
    As a defence lawyer I have seen the havoc bad interpretation can causes and taken advantage of it in the interest of my client.
    The interpreters are burdened with ensuring not a word is missed. They are expected to be 100% not 99%. When the demand for the job is so unforgiving, compensation for that responsibility should be commenserate.

  10. Shahla Ahmad Husain says:

    Thank you Mr Farooq.
    Your comments and support are valuable for CIAO and our colleagues
    Shahla Husain

  11. Genaro Hernandez says:

    Thank you very much for your support, on behalf of UCIO, the United Court Interpreters of Ontario! We would like to expose the real issue which is what has allowed the MAG to exploit interpreters: we’ve never had a formal contract. They call us “freelancers” and treat us as employees, but without the benefits that go with the latter.

    Humble seasonal farm workers are protected by a contract from their employer’s abuse and exploitation. Court interpreters have no such protection.

    Why? Because the MAG can and has the power to get away with it. The MAG is the sacred cow that no one wants to touch, let alone offend.

    We exist as a function of the MAG and thus are captive to its tyrannical one-way mandates, despite the existence of an organization charged by our province to govern and certify interpreters in Ontario: ATIO.

    We want real change at the root of the issue, which is the total control by MAG over interpreters, control which has been usurped from ATIO. We demand to be truly independent and regulated by ATIO but under negotiated terms which are mutually beneficial.

    Sorely missing in this article are our denouncement of MAG’s unethical and underhanded employment practices. They’re only getting worse.

    There’s been at least a couple of recent – documented – occasions where court staff have lied to the presiding judge during a proceeding about the availability of an interpreter. The matters were adjourned due to the lack of an interpreter but that was not true.

    An interpreter had been invited on two separate occasions and been ready to assist but was left waiting for confirmation to attend because the court staff member wanted to avoid having to pay the newly demanded hourly rate. This is a serious unethical transgression but not worse than denying the defendant his s. 14 Charter right.

    This adds to the court’s costs and to its backlog, causes the defendant to perhaps spend more time in detention without real justification, or at a minimum, losing a day’s pay for attending court. It’s unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

    Please support our efforts by starting an investigation of our demonstrable allegations of breaches of basic principles of justice and then the blatant exploitation of interpreters by the MAG.

    What we propose as a solution to many of the MAG’s existing deficiencies appears to be the only way to get our employer to cease and desist its unfair employment practices and eventually cede our control over to ATIO.

  12. Eline R. Anders, Portuguese Language Interpreter says:

    Thank you, Mr. Struthers, for your excellent summary of the court interpreters’ ethical and professional responsibilities as well as our work conditions. I would like to add that, besides an excellent command of our working languages, the court interpreter also needs to know the peculiarities of the vernacular used by immigrants and be prepared to study specialized terminology of expert witnesses.

  13. Rita Figueira says:

    As a member of PCIO, I am happy to see that our recent actions have exposed all that is wrong with how MAG conducts business with freelance interpreters. With CLA help, we can hope for some very needed change to come soon – we all will benefit from it.
    Thank you!

  14. Jorge F. van Schouwen says:

    Dear Mr. Struthers please accept my deepest gratitude for your support, understanding of Freelance Interpreter’s issues and your steadfast call to uphold the law and Charter of rights. It takes courage to challenge MAG and your support is a breath of fresh air. As a former MAG Staff Spanish Interpreter I enjoyed wages, benefits and protections not afforded to my Freelance Colleagues. I’m now happily retired but in MAG’s registry to provide Freelance Services and our conditions at present are deplorable, exploitative, counter productive, demoralizing and extremely hard financially. As a previous “insider” I witnessed the great efforts Coordinators go through to provide qualified Interpreters to fulfill the needs of our Justice system. Time and time again MAG has made extremely difficult to satisfy the Charter of Rights of the accused and witnesses. They have literally tried to balance budgets on the backs of new Immigrants who toil as Freelance Interpreters under very difficult circumstances, without proper support, technology and training. Since I have only joined the Freelancers alternate world since May of last year I’m shocked at the disparity from my previous situation as a staff Interpreter. Thank you and CLA once again. Jorge F. van Schouwen

  15. Jorge F. van Schouwen says:

    Dear Mr. Struthers,
    Additionally to all the comments posted above and my previous comments I would like to also thank CIAO, PCIO, UCIO and the large majority of Freelance Interpreters who although not affiliated to any of these three groups are supportive of each of these groups endeavors on behalf of Freelancers. United we stand!

  16. PCIO says:

    Mr. Farooq, we thank you kindly for your valuable feedback and support!

  17. Lee says:

    On behalf of all our colleague interpreters, salute to the strong support & statement of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association!
    This means a lot to us!
    Maybe Mr. John Struthers & Mr. Anser Farooq can spread the news to other lawyers that every lawyer should have the right to start asking for and qualifying only MAG accredited interpreters everytime in each court proceeding to guarantee quality verbatim interpretation.
    Thanks again.

  18. Sepideh Salimi says:

    As president of the Ontario Council on Community Interpreting (OCCI) and on behalf of the board I would like to express our thanks and gratitude to Mr. Struthers, the president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association and our support for all the freelance court interpreters of Ontario in their request for fair treatment.

  19. PCIO says:

    Mr. Salimi, PCIO – Professional Court Interpreters of Ontario would like to thank you kindly for your support.

  20. Farida Dehghan says:

    I would like to thank you from me and my Autistuc child for your supptet.

    God bless you all

  21. Teresa Smith says:

    As a former interpreter coordinator, I am certainly aware that these comments are absolutely factual. The Ministry of the Attorney General has not treated the freelance interpreters with the respect they deserve. The courts expect “top notch” interpreters at bargain basement prices and I have been saying it for years but there was no interest in hearing what a difficult job we ask of them. Whether the interpreter is accredited, conditionally accredited or have no status with the court, they are paid exactly the same. Then the expectation is that the accredited interpreters take lengthy trials with no guarantees of payment for the duration of the matter. When the interpreter coordinator is unable to schedule an interpreter for a language that we have no known interpreter for, we are to use an agency that charges an absolute fortune but probably pays the interpreter a small percentage of what the Ministry is paying.
    The mileage rate is and has been ridiculous for years, the more an interpreter travels for MAG, the less they get paid per km. There is no planet that this would make sense. To add insult to injury, that rate has not increased for years and gas prices are just getting higher and higher. How do we expect these amazing people who do such a difficult job to make ends meet. It is time that the freelance interpreters finally got the respect they deserve.
    So happy to know that the lawyers are ready to get on board. Where is the JUSTICE in this system?

  22. Tanvir Ahmed says:

    I thank the Criminal Lawyers Association for supporting our just cause. We would highly appreciate, if lawyers continue the support by asking for the court accredited interpreters to be assigned to court proceedings, rather than unaccredited interpreters, as this is fundamental to the administration of justice in Ontario. Thanks again.

  23. Laurent H. Gagnon says:

    Court accredited interpreters are a disparate group. Your article highlights the situation in the GTA with its multitude of languages and specific needs. It is a crying shame that highly qualified individuals are practically forced into highly technical but ill paid work because they are immigrants. For the Ontario government to be a party to this servitude and discrimination is an abomination.

    However, as a French interpreter who worked mostly in the eastern region, my reality is different. In 2000, I did the required two day’s training before starting to freelance and, ten years later, was subjected to the Ministry’s testing to grade one’s qualifications. None, not one, of the French colleagues with whom I trained or worked in my first decade or more remains in the Ottawa region.

    The issue is simple, one can’t make a living with the irregular, poorly paid hours. The consequence is that the national capital region has been a revolving door. As soon as French recruits have honed their skills, they move on to better paying work. Many are now with the federal government or freelance in the private sector where the fees are an order of magnitude higher.

    Shortly after I started interpreting, I was invited to do conference interpretation. These many years, I served both worlds but finally decided to throw in the towel and focus on the private sector. I still accept requests from lawyers for Discoveries or Independent Medical Examinations both, to be of assistance but also to keep up my skills in consecutive interpretation. I am only the latest of the many casualties in the Ministry’s shortsighted approach to court services in our country’s second official language.

    The Professional Court Interpreters of Ontario group (PCIO) is working hard to advance the conditions of all their fellow interpreters as well as for the benefit of the Ontario public. As a farewell gesture, I have chosen to work with them to assist my former colleagues in improving their lot. Your support, Mr. Struthers, means a lot.

  24. Abdifatah Ismail says:

    We thank the Criminal lawyers’ Association for lending their support to MAG Interpreters at this critical time. The interpreters are exhausted and COVID fatigue and its fallout coupled with uncertainty, low pay, high inflation, lack of benefits and financial difficulties have eventually taken their toll on the interpreters. No one has taken a long hard look and addressed their concerns for a lengthy period of time.

    Court Interpreters bent over backwards to maintain the accuracy and integrity of the interpretation and their remuneration should reflect the good quality of their services.

    Thank you again and as they say a friend in need is a friend indeed.

  25. Ina Nicolae says:

    A heartfelt thank you to the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, to Mr. Struthers and to all who so eloquently contributed their insights in support of our quest for fairness. I have been a court interpreter since 1989. This year I have joined PCIO, and for the first time I feel we are going in the right direction. Our plight is not just about money and improving our crumbling standard of living: it is also about equity and professional autonomy.

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