EAC Conference 2012, Day 2—The new libel defence: responsible communication

Ian Stauffer, a specialist in civil litigation, gave an overview of defamation and its defences, including a relatively new defence—responsible communication—which the Supreme Court of Canada recognized in late 2009.

Defamation was defined in the 1950 case of Willows v. Williams as follows:

A defamatory statement is one which has a tendency to injure the reputation of the person to whom it refers. It lowers him or her in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally and causes him or her to be regarded with feelings of hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear, dislike or disesteem.

To make a case for defamation, one must prove

  • the words were published or spoken to a third party
  • the words referred to the plaintiff
  • the words were defamatory

Stauffer said that in the world of defamation, nothing is definitive. It’s hard to predict how much, if anything, a client might receive in a defamation case, and there is no scale for awarding damages. Pursuing a defamation case is also risky because the offending words are likely to be republished, and more will be said. “It’s not easy to put the genie back in the bottle,” Stauffer said.

Usually, he explained, the client will initially request an apology and retraction. Whether apologies are issues and how they are worded can affect the damages potentially awarded later on.

Defamation can be classified as slander, which is usually spoken and more ephemeral, or libel, which is typically written or otherwise recorded. Traditional defences to libel are truth (i.e., justification), privilege (absolute or qualified), and fair comment. Now there is a fourth defence: responsible communication.

Absolute privilege refers to remarks made in a chamber such as the House of Commons or Senate; qualified privilege includes performance reviews, letters of reference, etc. Fair comment refers to a comment made in good faith, without malice, on a matter of public interest. It must be identifiable as a comment rather than a statement of fact.

Responsible communication refers to reportage on matters of public interest in which the publisher has been diligent in verifying an allegation and the reliability of the source. A jury in a case in which responsible communication is used as a defence would also weigh whether the plaintiff’s side of the story was sought out and whether the inclusion of the defamatory statement was justifiable. This new defence lifts the chilling effect on reporters and frees them to write about potentially contentious matters of public interest.

Stauffer’s handed out copies of a paper he authored, “Defamation, responsible communication and cyberspace,”  which elaborates on the above issues, as well as their application to Internet-related cases, and offers examples and specific case studies.

EAC Conference 2012, Day 2—LGBTQ: getting it right

Luna Allison, a queer journalist, editor, playwright, and performer, offered her perspectives on some of the do’s and don’ts when writing about the LGBTQ communities, in the hopes, as she says, of “building knowledge and cultural competency.” Mainstream media approaches to LGBTQ issues can come off as ignorant and offensive; the key is to develop the discipline to dial back our curiosity and focus on the actual issues.


  • use a person’s sexuality or sexual orientation in combination with their occupation (e.g., “gay MP”), unless they’ve explicitly stated that’s how they identify
  • make an assumption about a person’s gender based on how they look or sound
  • ask about a person’s surgical status
  • use a person’s pre-transition name—this is rude and exposing. And never use the term “tranny” to refer to a transsexual or transgendered person


  • ask how a person identifies
  • ask what pronoun a person prefers. If you can’t ascertain this, try structuring your sentences without using pronouns (pluralizing often helps) and use gender-neutral terms
  • research to understand correct cultural usage and cultural history of particular terms (e.g., “butch,” “femme,” “queer”)
  • understand that transsexual individuals may change how they identify post-transition
  • refer to the LGBTQ communities in the plural; even within the “gay community,” for example, there are multiple communities

Allison also clarified the distinction between transsexual (someone who feels born in the wrong body and wants to transition) and transgendered (an umbrella term often used to describe someone who may be transsexual, genderfluid, genderqueer, or gender neutral). She emphasized the need to respect someone’s gender identity, which can be hard in a culture where the male–female dichotomy is so deeply engrained (for example, the first question that usually comes up when finding out someone has had a baby is, “Is it a boy or a girl?”).

In sensationalist stories in mainstream media, a lot of dormant assumptions tend to bubble up, Allison says, referencing the Luka Magnotta case in particular. His sexuality was often mentioned in close proximity to his alleged criminal activities, and journalists and editors have to be sensitive to the impression such proximity could leave on readers. She also cautioned that transgendered individuals are often characterized as being “in disguise” or otherwise trying to deceive. It’s this feeling of being fooled that has led to a lot of violence against transgendered people (and is why there is an international transgender day of remembrance).

As writers and editors, we have to be aware of the perceptions that our work might generate in our readership and the misconceptions it might feed.

EAC Conference 2012, Day 1—Whose words are these anyway? Translating, editing, and avoiding the Gallicism trap

Barb Collishaw and Traci Williams jointly presented a session about translation, with Collishaw focusing on the similarities and differences between editing, translation, and revision and Williams offering some insight into Gallicisms, particularly in Quebec English.

Collishaw works at the Parliament of Canada, helping to produce the Hansard, which, of course, must be translated so that it is complete in both official languages. Translators translate text (as opposed to interpreters, who translate speech) from a source language transcript into the target language in a way that accurately reflects the content, meaning, and style of the original. Revisers—who work exclusively in house—then edit the translated text.

Drawing upon the EAC’s Professional Editorial Standards, Collishaw compared the roles of translators and revisers to the role of an editor, noting that translators use virtually all of the stylistic editing, copy editing, and proofreading skills listed in the PES. Translation requires an eye for detail, a good command of both source and target language, and an understanding of where and how to check facts.

Collishaw emphasized the importance of keeping the audience in mind and to make room in the production schedule for translation and revision. Editors and managers sometimes forget that translation takes time, and because it comes in near the end of the process, translators often end up being under severe deadline pressure.

Translators get to choose the words they use, within the range of meaning of the source language words, so awkward or offensive terms can be smoothed over. However, this may not be what the author intended. Collishaw gave the example of “unparliamentary language”: sometimes translators soften such words or phrases, but this may not be wise, since an MP may object on a point of order later on, and revisers then have to go and restore the “mistake” to preserve logic.

Fact checking can be tricky, since translators don’t often get to query the author and ask people what they meant or how to spell someone’s name. Translators use tools such as Termium Plus, a terminology data bank, and TransSearch, a bilingual concordancer of past translations, to help them in their work, and are expected to compile glossaries. After they finish translating, translators are expected to proof their own work, checking against the source language.

Revisers check again, making sure that nothing has been left out and that meaning hasn’t been inadvertently changed, paying particular attention to details like numbers and dates. They also edit for style, imposing consistency on text from different translators. (To complicate matters, the House and Senate have different style guides, and revisers have to keep it all straight!)

I asked Collishaw if translators or revisers get to see transcripts of the interpreters as a reference, and she laughed, saying, “No, but I wish we would!” It seems that what the interpreters say isn’t transcribed, and the translators and revisers don’t have access to it.


Traci Williams is originally from Ontario but now works as a translator and editor in Quebec. She became fascinated by the influence of French on the English language and began to document Gallicisms—words or terms borrowed from French.

Originally, English was a rather limited language, composed primarily of one- or two-syllable words, Williams explained. The first Gallicisms appeared after the Norman Invasion in 1066, initially in law, warfare, and church language; afterwards, they began to pervade clothing- and food-related vocabulary (as seen is animals versus their meats—”pig” vs. “pork,” “cow” vs. “beef,” “deer” vs. “venison”). Between 1100 and 1500, English absorbed about 10,000 French words. Before the seventeenth century, French words appearing in English were anglicized (e.g., chimney, change, charge); afterwards, hints of the French were retained (e.g., chevron, champagne, chaperone).

In Quebec, the first major wave of English speakers were British loyalists; by 1841, English speakers of British descent were the largest population in Montreal. When rural French Quebeckers began moving to Montreal in the 1860s, they were expected to learn English, which, until 1975, was considered the language of prestige by both the French and English. During that period, a steady stream of Anglicisms seeped into French. Yet, after the PQ was voted in, in 1976, French began to influence English. At first, Gallicisms appeared in colloquial speech, but today educated professionals will use them without even realizing it. Between 1990 and 1999, the number of Gallicims tripled, and Oxford University has now officially recognized Quebec English as a distinct dialect.

Some Gallicisms are perfectly acceptable—”encore,” “fiancé,” and “en route” are examples. Cooking, dancing, and law feature many Gallicisms. And English has often retained words of both Germanic and French origin, with slightly different connotations (e.g., “ask” vs. “question,” “holy” vs. “sacred”) or has kept nouns of Germanic origin but has used the French adjectives (e.g., “finger” but “digital,” “book” but “literary”). What editors need to be aware of are the unacceptable Gallicisms that arise as a result of false cognates—words that are formally similar to words in the native language but have different meanings (e.g., “animator” rather than “instructor,” “conference” rather than “lecture,” “manifestation” rather than “demonstration”). The delicate aspect of editing Quebec English for an audience outside of Quebec is that an author—perfectly fluent in English—may be unaware that he or she is inappropriately using Gallicisms.

Williams emphasizes the importance of continuing to read, read, read. She suggests reading sources of English outside of where you live to make sure that you have a solid perspective of language quirks that might be a local peculiarity and may not translate to a wider audience. Williams has started a newsletter about Gallicisms and related topics. Contact her at via Semantech Communications to sign up.

EAC Conference 2012, Day 1—E-publishing essentials for editors

Greg Ioannou, president of EAC and publisher of Iguana Books, gave an overview of some of the things editors should know about ebooks, beginning with a bit of history: the first ebook was a computerized index of Thomas Aquinas’s works and was released in the 1940s. In the 1960s hypertext was used to format ebooks so that they could be read using different window sizes and monitors on IBM mainframes. The first ereader was Sony’s Data Discman, which displayed ebooks stored on CD.

Although there are hundreds of types of e-readers, many of them with proprietary file formats, the most common ones include EPUB, EPUB2, MOBI, and PDF. Most ebooks are basically just HTML files with metadata that help bookstores categorize them (e.g., title, author, description, ISBN, publication date, keywords, etc.) The editor [ed—or perhaps an indexer?] is in the best position to know what keywords should included in the metadata file.

At Iguana, the creation sequence is as follows:

For simple books

  • edit and style in Word
  • create PDF from Word (Iguana has discovered that they have to produce at least one print-on-demand copy for the author or, more often, as Ioannou says, the author’s mother).
  • create EPUB file using Sigil
  • create MOBI file using Calibre

For complex books

  • edit and style in Word
  • create PDF from InDesign
  • create EPUB file from InDesign
  • clean up EPUB in Sigil
  • create MOBI file using Calibre

Once you’ve created your files, Ioannou said, you should actually look at the ebook on the device(s) it’s destined for; looking at it on just the computer can be deceiving. Right now InDesign’s EPUB export doesn’t actually work very well, so the outputs have to be cleaned up quite a bit.

Ioannou then described the many devices on which ebooks could be read, including tablets, phones, computers, Kindles, and other e-readers (e.g., Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, etc.). Only the Kindles can read MOBI files, whereas the other devices can all read EPUB files. All can display PDFs, although only tablets, smartphones, and computers can display colour and play videos.

Since EPUB/MOBI files are reflowable and may be read on very narrow devices like a smart phone, editors should keep the following in mind when editing for an ebook:

  • Make sure that there are spaces before and after dashes
  • Opt for hyphenating a compound rather than using a closed compound; however, avoid hyphenations when it could lead to odd line breaks (e.g., choose “ereader” over “e-reader”).
  • Make sure all quotes are smart quotes; this is relatively easy to do in Word but much more difficult to code in Sigil or Calibre.
  • Books without chapters don’t work very well as ebooks—the large file size can significantly slow down an e-reader. If possible, break a book down into chapters of ideally between 3,000 and 5,000 words. This structure also makes navigating an ebook much easier.
  • As for formatting, keep it simple. Tables and column look terrible on an e-reader, and images won’t display in some older e-readers. Most e-readers are black and white only, and many older e-readers can’t handle large files (e.g., files with embedded images and videos).

Ioannou noted that e-readers are primitive machines and that the technology’s rapidly changing. His caveat: “Most of what I say here will not be true a year from now, and practically none of it will be true two years from now.”

EAC Conference 2012, Day 1—Making the Language Portal of Canada work for you

The Translation Bureau launched the Language Portal of Canada in 2009 as a gateway to allow everyone free access to the translation tool Termium, a terminology and linguistic data bank in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Despite its translation roots, however, the Language Portal is packed with news, tools, and references that appeal to a much wider audience of editors, writers, educators, and anyone interested in language.

The Language Portal exists in both French and English, but the sites aren’t merely translations of one another. There are different types of language problems in French and English, so although there is parallelism in the tools available to users on the two sites, the content is different.

Robin Kilroy creates and curates much of what’s on the Language Portal, and she took EAC conference attendees on a tour of the site.


These link to language-related stories gleaned from external sources. Two headlines are posted each week and then are archived for a year.

My Portal

This is broken down for readers “At school,” “At work,” and “At home,” which link to specific resources for students and educators, professionals who have to write or edit (as Kilroy says, so many people now are “functional writers” who have to write for their jobs, though they may not consider themselves professional writers), and the general reader, respectively.

Resources include “Linguistic Recommendations and Reminders,” which offers tidbits of advice about grammar and style.

From Our Contributors

The Language Portal’s partner organizations (including the Editors’ Association of Canada) contribute language-related articles for this section, which are then edited and translated in house. They are all archived by organization name.


“Discover,” on the left-hand sidebar, and “Discover Coast to Coast,” at the bottom centre, link to the same resources but are organized differently. These are a collection of links, external to the Translation Bureau, to such resources as dictionaries and information about language training and language professions.

Well Written, Well Said

On the left-hand sidebar, this section links to Termium, Writing Tools, Gateway to English, and Quizzes (on everything from spelling and punctuation to Canadian authors and proverbs). Editors may find Writing Tools particularly useful, because it provides access to such resources as The Canadian Style (much more up to date than the print edition) and Peck’s English Pointers, among many others.

Exploring Vancouver pubs

Starting tomorrow you can get your own copy of Exploring Vancouver: An Architectural Guide, the story of Vancouver as told through its architecture. The book is organized into fourteen walking/driving tours of the city’s neighbourhoods and its closest suburbs, each showcasing structures of note—for their architectural excellence or for their historical significance. Architectural historian Harold Kalman and architectural critic Robin Ward have put together an authoritative but accessible guide featuring eye-popping photography by John Roaf in a stunning package designed by the fabulous Naomi MacDougall.

2011 Tom Fairley shortlist announced

I’m very excited to be among three editors shortlisted for the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, for my work on Cow by Florian Werner, translated by Doris Ecker. I’m extremely grateful to Nancy Flight for nominating me. When one of your most respected mentors deems your work worthy of an award, the nomination truly is an honour unto itself. Thanks also to Florian Werner and designer Naomi MacDougall for supporting my nomination.

Congratulations to my fellow shortlisted nominees: Smaro Kamboureli, for her work on Flux: Transnational Shifts in Asian Canadian Writing by Roy Miki, and Peter Midgley, for his work on The Man in Blue Pyjamas by Jalal Barzanji and translated by Sabah Salih. The winner will be announced at the EAC conference banquet on June 2.

Credit where credit’s due

EAC-BC’s professional development co-chair, Eva van Emden, has posted some thoughts of her own about low-cost ways book and magazine publishers can help keep their freelancers happy, following my posts about the care and feeding of freelancers and maximizing your freelance editors’ marketing potential.

Her point about acknowledging a freelancer’s role with a credit line is an excellent one. Although most of my book publisher clients will credit at least the designer and substantive editor, and sometimes the copy editor, I’m well aware that doing so is not standard within the industry, and I think that, as minor a point as it seems, making it standard is something worth fighting for. Our work as editors should be invisible, but we shouldn’t be.

I appreciate that my editorial credits often pop up in Google Books results when people search for my name and that I can easily point prospective clients to Amazon’s Look Inside feature to show that I’ve worked on a particular book when my name appears on the copyright page. Not only does not including an editorial credit hurt my ability to promote myself, but it also hurts the profession. We aren’t doing ourselves any favours by essentially agreeing to pretend that editors don’t contribute to a book.

Although I understand why the proofreader may not be credited (or wish to be credited), particularly unsung are indexers, who are only very rarely acknowledged for their contributions. In a way, I can understand why—the tight timelines involved in indexing and the fact that the author and editor will modify the index often mean that the indexer does not have direct control over the quality of the final printed index, and since the index is occasionally added in at bluelines, having to modify the copyright page to add a credit would mean additional costs for the publisher. Mostly, however, I think it’s just inertia that has prevented crediting indexers from becoming standard. The indexer for Derek Hayes’s Historical Atlas of the North American Railroad (2010), Judith Anderson, was delighted to be asked if she wanted a credit, and Hayes, who designs all of his own books, has acknowledged the indexer on the copyright page of his atlases ever since. Associating the index with a name is especially important, I think, to show that a person is involved in creating the index—there’s a common misconception that indexes can be computer generated without human input, and, again, perpetuating that myth can only damage the indexing profession.

I’m not suggesting that we need some sort of overt advocacy campaign to change the way publishers operate (although organizations like the Editors’ Association of Canada and Indexing Society of Canada are in a good position to raise awareness of this issue), but if we all begin requesting credits when we work with our clients, we can begin organically to define a new standard for giving all team members their due.

Tell me how you really feel

When you work in house, you’re a member of a big extended family: the managers are the elders—parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles—and it’s easy to develop sibling-like or cousin-like relationships with your other coworkers. No family is without its dysfunction, of course, but even more fraught is the freelancer–client relationship, a dynamic that can feel an awful lot like dating: as a freelancer you try to make enough of an impression on the other party to be engaged on a project/date, and if it goes well, you hope they like you enough to contact you again. But if they never call, well, that can evoke the same kinds of thoughts and insecurities, whether you’re looking for love or looking for work.

One perk you enjoy by being in a family—something that may feel like no perk at all—is the scathing, critical honesty that only your kin could get away with dishing out. But “when a client stops calling,” said a friend of mine a few years ago when she first left an in-house position to go freelance, “you never know why. Maybe they just don’t have any work. Maybe your contact got fired. Or maybe you did something wrong and royally screwed up a project. The problem is that even if that’s what happened, you never get any feedback. How are you supposed to grow as an editor or to make sure you don’t make that mistake again?” Ann-Marie Metten echoed the frustration at last month’s EAC-BC meeting. When asked why she chose to organize her style sheets the way she did, she admitted she now understands why her method may not have been ideal, “but when you’re a freelancer,” she said, “you hand it in, and nobody ever tells you anything.”

Unfortunately, clients—and my focus is on publishers here, especially book publishers—aren’t in the business of helping their freelancers grow as editors, and they often don’t have the resources to do much training. They have certain expectations of their freelancers, and when those expectations aren’t met, they may decide it’s easier to move on to other contractors rather than invest the time to give feedback. So what should we do?


  • Be proactive about asking for feedback. When I submit a finished project or when I invoice, I’ll add a brief line thanking the client for the work and saying something like, “If there’s anything you’d like me to do differently for future projects, please don’t hesitate to let me know.” One of my current clients, after my first project with the organization, responded with a pages-long email listing everything I should have done. It stung, but at the same time, it was reassuring. My contact probably wouldn’t have taken the time to offer those suggestions if she weren’t planning on giving me more work.
  • Keep a running checklist based on your past mistakes. (And these don’t necessarily have to come through direct feedback. Sometimes we all know why a project/date went badly.) Eventually you’ll know what kinds of problems to look out for and what kinds of questions to ask new clients.
  • Try to keep learning and improving your skills. Editors’ Association of Canada seminars and workshops are always a good place to start, as are editing and publishing courses offered at schools across Canada and around the world.
  • Maintain a high standard of professionalism and ethical conduct. Most of the time publishers drop freelancers not because they missed a serial comma but because they missed an important deadline.
  • Finally, take it easy on yourself. (Remember that first dates are almost always awkward.) Sometimes the problem is related not to skill but to an incompatibility of personalities. Know that although the publishing community is small, industry-wide blacklists of editors aren’t as prevalent as you might fear. And clear, honest communication with the client will encourage reciprocity.

Publishers (and other clients)

  • Develop clear guidelines—not only about matters such as style but also, and perhaps more importantly, about your editorial process. Different houses have different expectations of where the freelancer’s role begins and ends, and a freelancer’s failure to adapt to your process can be one of your greatest sources of frustration. Are you expecting your editors to format the manuscripts in a certain way? Do you have a specific file-naming convention? Do you want your proofreaders to flag changed pages and use red ink? Say so in your guidelines, and make these easy to access and search (preferably on an online resource like a wiki). That said, expect new freelancers to ask questions that your documentation may already answer. When faced with a huge volume of new information, a project with a new client, and a looming deadline, freelancers may not always know what to prioritize.
  • If a freelancer messes up, tell him. Doing so will save you time and trouble if you use him again, and at the very least, it will make him aware that there’s a problem. If you start to notice a recurring problem with several of your freelancers, take a look at your guidelines to see if they need to be revised or rearranged to highlight specific issues.
  • If you can afford to, build in a postmortem as part of your publishing cycle, and make editorial feedback (for both freelancers and in-house editors) a component. This feedback doesn’t have to be long, and keep in mind that positive comments are just as important as the negative.
  • Finally, if you never intend to use a particular freelancer again, let her know (gently!). She wants to be barking up the wrong tree no more than you want to get an inquiry from her every few months for which you have to take time to compose a cryptic, evasive response.