October 23 2017

Our language expert faithfully translates important documents without ever losing sight of the legal ramifications.

Monzon Hilda

Translation students are often told that translators do not translate words, but units of meaning. Of course, translators work with words, their definitions and the interactions between words, but they are used to communicate specific meanings in an idiomatic style.

In the legal field in Canada, these words and meanings exist in a very specific context. Not only do we have two official languages that have the same weight from a legal point of view, we also live in a society where two legal traditions coexist: common law and civil law. When translating a document from one language to the other, a translator cannot ignore the bilingualism and bijuralism and the issues of concepts and terminology that they raise.

“As a legal translator, my raw material is the general language and terminology specific to the legal field (in English and French). I have to communicate in one language legal concepts from another language, sometimes even from another legal tradition, so that the effects and intents of translated documents remain the same.”

If this principle is not followed, it could have financial consequences or lead to important problems for clients.

A case famous among legal translators, opposing Rogers Communications Partnership (“Rogers”) and Bell Aliant Regional Communications, Limited Partnership (“Bell Aliant”), revolved partly around a comma. Based on the phrasing of the termination clause of a contract in English binding Bell Aliant to Rogers (“Contract”), more particularly the presence of a comma, Bell Aliant thought that the contract could be terminated at any moment with a written prior notice of one year.


Subject to the termination provisions of this Agreement, this Agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.1


Rogers, however, argued that the Contract could only be terminated one year before the end of a five-year period. To convince the CRTC of its interpretation, Rogers presented as evidence the French version of the template on which the Contract was based.


Sous réserve des dispositions relatives à la résiliation du présent contrat, ce dernier prend effet à la date de signature. Il demeure en vigueur pour une période de cinq (5) ans, à partir de la date de la signature et il est subséquemment renouvelé pour des périodes successives de cinq (5) années, à moins d’un préavis écrit de résiliation à l’autre partie un an avant l’expiration du contrat.2


The clause in French clearly indicated that the Contract could only be terminated a year before the end of a five-year period. In this case, Rogers could use the French version to support its interpretation of the litigious clause3 because both versions of the contract template had been approved by the CRTC via an order.


This case does not only speak to the importance of punctuation in one language, but of the dangers facing translators.

 “When collaborating with LJT Lawyers, I bring my language skills and translator instincts. I learned from the lawyers the legal terminology and concepts specific to the law. Combining my translating skills to the legal field has been and still is a rewarding experience.”

-       Hilda Monzon. Legal Translator


At LJT Lawyers, we know that accurate translations and meeting deadlines are crucial to our clients. You can trust the services that we use to meet your needs in legal translations.

 For more information on the legal translation services that we use, contact Pierre Savoie : pierre.savoie@ljt.ca


Rogers Communications Inc. – Application to review and vary Telecom Decision 2006-45 regarding the termination and assignment of a support structure agreement, Telecom Decision CRTC 2007-75, 20 August 2007. 


3 Although the CRTC agreed with Rogers’ argument and interpretation, the Commission also stated that it did not have jurisdiction and therefore could not impose an interpretation of the clause nor compel Bell Aliant to comply with its obligations under the Contract.

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