Affordable and specialized legal interpreting services

The Cause

Imagine trying to navigate your way through the legal system in a country that is new to you, and that has a justice system you don’t understand - one that is entirely different than the one you grew up with. Now imagine what that is like when you don’t speak the language well enough to understand what is happening to you and why, or what help is available to you.

Court-mandated interpreting is available for the accused in criminal law cases, but no such service is available for civil legal matters. Our program, provided by Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) in partnership with United Cultures of Canada Association (UCCA), fills a critical need for Albertans dealing with family law and other civil law matters, and is also pioneering an efficient and effective model of service delivery.

Current funding has expired for the project, so this grant would allow us to continue offering these services for family and civil matters in Edmonton for at least the next six months, as well as to explore ways to expand to other areas of law, and to and to other regions outside Edmonton, especially Calgary.

Our project is unique in facilitating professional legal interpreting by volunteer interpreters who have received intensive training in both interpreting and the law. Commercial interpreting agencies can provide this service, but each hour can cost up to $75 with a minimum charge of $150, and those doing the interpreting may not have received professional training in interpreting, and likely don’t understand many of the legal terms being used. Larger international commercial agencies offering interpreting over the phone often use individuals who are not familiar with Canada, our legal system, common legal terms, and even local slang. With phone interpreters there is also no way to ensure the quality service.

Our program provides interpreters with approximately 30 hours of classroom training on the ethics of interpreting, the proper role of an interpreter, and general legal terminology as well as context specific legal terms. They are also trained in cultural sensitivities that helps them educate the lawyer or other service provider about the client's cultural context that may be influencing their decisions or the way they are relaying the facts.

Who Will it Benefit?

• New immigrants: Coming to a new country and trying to learn a new language is an enormously stressful experience. Trying to resolve legal matters in that circumstance can be entirely overwhelming. Simply put, providing this service to this community means people who need help navigating Alberta’s legal system are able to get it.
• The court system and the judiciary: Significant court time can be wasted by misunderstandings that lead to inefficient processes, and our program can ensure matters are dealt with far more effectively and fairly when all participants understand what is happening and why.
• Children of litigants: Legal proceedings can be stressful and very difficult for children when their parents are involved. Before our program was introduced children were sometimes even called on to translate for their parents as they may have learned English in school.
• Community: Coming into contact with a legal system you don’t understand can lead very directly to distrust of the justice system and all its representatives. Our program provides increased knowledge of the Canadian legal system and increased positive outcomes when being engaged by the system.
• Lawyers: It can be very challenging to deal with clients with whom you cannot communicate, and our program enables lawyers to effectively represent clients by facilitating communication.
• Social workers: In much the same way, social workers helping individuals navigate the system are able to do so much more effectively when effective communication is enabled by our program.
• Interpreters and others who come into contact with our program: Our program provides an excellent education and valuable experience, along with cultural learning for the participants in the legal system.