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Impaired driving charge lost in translation

The administration of justice is seldom simple. Even when a case against a suspect seems irrefutable, processes need to be followed by authorities to ensure fair treatment. A recent and clear-cut incident of impaired driving provides an example of what can happen when an arrest goes awry.

Peel Regional Police officers conducting a RIDE spot-check in October 2015 stopped a man in Mississauga, Ontario. The man was arrested for impaired driving and a breathalyzer test revealed his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. Following his arrest, he was brought in to the local division.

While in custody, it became apparent the accused spoke very little English. Although a Punjabi-speaking interpreter was requested as an intermediary between the man and his legal counsel, the Legal Aid Ontario lawyer providing telephone service ignored the request and continued in English. Despite the obvious language barrier, no further effort was made to accommodate the accused.

During the trial, the judge found that, although the officers clearly had no malicious intent, they did not do their complete duty. In the judge's decision, he ruled, because of the man's lack of understanding of English, that he could not have received adequate counsel, as is his right. The charge of impaired driving was dismissed, and the man set free. Both the Peel Regional Police and Legal Aid Ontario are reviewing the decision.

In a country as diverse as Canada, communication barriers are not uncommon. But the fact remains that the law treats all individuals equally, and rights are not determined by language, ethnicity or even ability. For a person accused of a crime, it is important to have legal counsel from a professional who will uphold the right to due process, no matter his or her client's background.

Source: thestar.com, "Mississauga drunk-driving case dropped after man not given Punjabi interpreter", Jacques Gallant, July 26, 2016

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