Court of Appeal of Quebec

R.T. c. R.

Morissette, Hogue, Sansfaçon

Appeal from conviction. Dismissed.

The appellant, who is of Chinese origin, was convicted on one count of sexually assaulting his spouse. The police were assisted by an interpreter when they read the appellant his rights and during his interrogation, which was recorded and admitted into evidence. At trial, an official interpreter was mandated to identify any differences between what was actually said and the remarks interpreted during the police interrogation. The appellant argues that the trial judge erred in refusing to recognize his right to the assistance of an interpreter during the interrogation and in refusing to adjourn the trial after his lawyer withdrew. He argues that these errors deprived him of a fair trial.

The right to the assistance of an interpreter is provided for in section 14 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (R.S.C. 1985, App. II, No. 44, Schedule B, Part I). This right arises the moment a person becomes a party to a proceeding, which covers the trial and pre-trial phases such as the appearance, bail hearing, and preliminary inquiry. This excludes the pre-appearance steps, such as the police investigation, where the individual is free not to cooperate. In this case, the judge ensured that, despite the poor work done by the interpreter during some of the exchanges between the police and the appellant, the appellant’s version of the facts was not vitiated by the interpreter’s errors.

The judge could not balance the right to counsel, which is constitutionally protected, against effective case management. Similarly, it is a delicate task to balance the right to counsel at trial and the right to a hearing within a reasonable time because these two rights are also protected. The judge, after he concluded that the appellant's request for a postponement was not an indirect means, should have granted the postponement of the trial. Moreover, he should have made an effort to be available on earlier dates in the event of a postponement. The three days during which the appellant was not assisted by a lawyer, however, were spent watching the video recording of the police interrogation and to the corrections made to its interpretation. This step did not require the active participation of the appellant or his lawyer and no other evidence was presented on this occasion. The judge's refusal to postpone the viewing did not deprive the appellant of his right to make full answer and defence or to a fair trial.

Furthermore, the judge did not err in telling counsel for the appellant that he could not attempt to contradict the official interpreter based on his own knowledge of his client's language. Last, nothing prevented counsel for the appellant from calling an expert witness to prove that the official interpreter had done his job poorly. No request was presented to examine the interpreter or the police officer who testified before the change of lawyers.

Legislation interpreted: section 14 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Text of the decision:

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