Section 14 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that a party or witness in any proceedings who does not understand or speak the language in which the proceedings are conducted or who is deaf has the right to the assistance of an interpreter.
What is the Right to an Interpreter?
Section 14 of the Charter guarantees that a party or witness in any proceedings who does not understand or speak the language in which the proceedings are conducted or who is deaf has the right to the assistance of an interpreter. This ensures that individuals are who participating in the court process understand what is happening throughout the process. It ensures that accused individuals are aware of the full scope of the allegations against them and the evidence being tendered to allow them to make full answer and defence. An interpreter may also be requested for a witness in a proceeding. This ensures witnesses are able to understand what is being asked of them and are able to reply clearly.
An individual requiring an interpreter is not required to formally request one. The Court has a responsibility to ensure proceedings are conducted fairly and in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. The Court should inquire about the need for an interpreter.
Person A is on trial for assault. Person A calls person B as a witness at trial. Both person A and person B are originally from Italy and do not speak English. The trial is being held in English. Both person A and person B are entitled to the assistance of an Italian language interpreter for the duration of the proceedings.
When is the Right Triggered?
The right to the assistance of an interpreter is triggered when an individual who does not understand or speak the language the proceedings are being held in is a party to the proceedings.
What Happens if the Right is Violated?
Where an individual asserts that their section 14 Charter right was violated either because they were not provided an interpreter, or because they did not understand the interpreter they were provided, they may launch a Charter challenge. Where the application is successful and the applicant can show their right was violated, the Court may order a remedy pursuant to section 24(1) of the Charter. Typically, this would result in a new trial being ordered. If the violation occurred during some other proceeding such as a preliminary inquiry or bail hearing, a new hearing will be ordered.
R. v. Tran,  2 SCR 951
In the case of R. v. Tran, the Supreme Court of Canada addressed section 14 of the Charter, outlining what is required to prove a violation. The Court indicated that for an individual to establish a section 14 Charter violation, they must prove that they needed an interpreter during the proceedings because they did not understand the language, or they must prove that there was a material deficiency in the interpretation that was provided to them. The Court further indicated that individuals in need of an interpreter do not have an obligation to ask for one to enjoy the protection of section 14. Judges have a responsibility to ensure the proceedings they preside over are fair.
R. v. Dennie, 1996 CanLii 8172 (ON SC)
In the case of R. v. Dennie, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice addressed the applicability of section 14 of the Charter to investigative and arrest procedures. The Court found that the protections associated with section 14 of the Charter do not attach during investigative stages of a case or during arrest. An accused person is not entitled to an interpreter during these stages.