Sometimes a legal text (a statute, or a treaty, for example) has inconsistent translations in two or more languages. Does this preclude its enforceability?

1 Answer 1


No. The fact that there are discordant translations of a legal text does not prevent its enforceability.

In Canada, there are two relevant doctrines. One for statutory interpretation of French and English statutes, and one for interpretation of treaties with Indigenous peoples.

In R. v. Daoust, 2004 SCC 6, the Supreme Court laid out the principles of interpreting statutes that have French and English translation when there is discordance between the two. It did not hold that such a statute is unenforceable. Instead, it provided an approach to determining what the common meaning is.

Where a treaty with Indigenous peoples is at issue, a key interpretive principle is:

any ambiguities or doubtful expressions in the wording of the treaty or document must be resolved in favour of the Indians

R. v. Badger, [1996] 1 S.C.R. 771 at para. 41

  • Counterexampe: Ethiopia and Italy...he Ethiopian text said may use Italy to negotiate with European powers, ihr italian text said must use italy.
    – Trish
    Feb 6 at 11:04
  • britannica.com/event/Treaty-of-Wichale - Art. XVII differed in such a way that there effectively was no treaty in the first place: Italy used the Italian text of the Treaty to try and claim that Ethiopia was their protectorate, especially towards other European countries, and Ethiopia tried to negotiate with them believing their Amharic test, which only said that they had the right to use Italy, not the duty. The resulting denunciation of the treaty by Ethiopia led to the First Italo-Ethiopian War - the versions could not stand next to one another and both be binding.
    – Trish
    Feb 6 at 15:40

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