How Charlottetown police are bridging language gaps in their community

Interpreters are now being recruited and trained by the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada to assist city police.

Arabic, Mandarin and Somali interpreters are now on call, 24/7

Det. Fatbardh Maliqi of Charlottetown city police with Alia Hack of the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada. (Brian Higgins/CBC News)

Charlottetown city police are taking steps to bridge language barriers with new immigrants. As part of a pilot program, the force now has interpreters on call, 24 hours a day.

"Every situation is unique," said Det. Fatbardh Maliqi. "It could be anything from a simple chat with police to a criminal investigation."

The P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada is training the interpreters. 

"Ensuring that [newcomers] are well understood in the community is extremely important to us," said Alia Hack, Canadian life skills worker, with the association. "[Police interpreters] need an understanding of the actual language but also the cultures behind those languages."

Building trust

So far, the police interpreters are providing service in Arabic, Mandarin and Somali. Charlottetown police are employing two Arabic interpreters — male and female — to respect cultural norms in Arabic-speaking countries.

"The male interpreter works with men, the woman, with females," said Maliqi.  

Interpreters need to understand the culture as well as the language of newcomers, according to Alia Hack, Canadian life skills worker, with the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The interpreters are also helping newcomers learn to trust police — a trust that doesn't exist in some of the countries they've left, Hack said.

"It certainly takes repeated experiences and conversations for the clients ultimately to feel safe and have those barriers come down when working with the police here in Charlottetown," said Hack.

Security background clearance

More languages may be added to the roster as more interpreters are recruited and trained.

Charlottetown's Vietnamese community is growing, according to Hack, and could benefit from more trained interpreters.

Police interpreters must undergo a security background clearance and confidentiality is a must.

"Could be any scenario," said Maliqi. "Could be everyday contact with police. [The newcomer] could be the victim. They could be the suspect.... It's hard to make assumptions on what will happen but this translation service will assist the front line officers."

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