By Aimée Suhie
When D’Arcy McPherson stepped out his door in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1990s, he could pluck a mango off a tree before heading to work at court and plan some beach time at the end of his day. But once he moved back to his native Canada, he had to worry about frozen eyeballs on a winter day in Ottawa’s minus 20 degrees.
Contrasts like these are what make a court reporter’s life so fascinating, and, like many of us, McPherson has stories to tell. He covered circuit courts throughout the province of Manitoba in the late 1980s. “That often meant flying into remote communities in the middle of winter and huddling around a wood stove with the judge while reporting testimony,” he remembered. “I also had gloves that I had cut off the fingertips to write in colder rooms – a necessity!”
He reported many of the committee hearings when same-sex marriage was before the Senate of Canada in 2003. “There were certainly times when it was difficult to hear some of the things being said,” McPherson said, who is gay. “Luckily, as reporters we are trained to distance ourselves from testimony that we might find emotionally charged. Overall the discussion on same-sex marriage was very positive and seemed to demystify many of the stigmas. Since becoming the law in Canada, same-sex marriage has become part of daily life, and institutional barriers to equality are less accepted.”
McPherson originally intended to go to law school, “but most of the new lawyers in the 1980s were working in restaurants,” he said. “There was a big demand for court reporters, and I was a pretty good typist, so I thought it might be a possibility.” He graduated in 1986 from Langara College in Vancouver where readers from the drama program at the college read dictations in different accents, which he said “could be pretty amusing.”
He earned his RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, CRI, and CMRS certifications and is now in his 20th year in the Senate of Canada with the title managing editor of debates. Even though he no longer reports, he does broadcast captioning in his spare time.
As managing editor, he is in charge of budget, staffing processes, editorial policy, and ensuring that production deadlines are met. “We must coordinate with partner agencies such as the Translation Bureau — everything said in English must also be produced in French and vice versa,” McPherson explained. “In addition, I edit the final version of the debates in English, as well as some committees. I manage a team of four supervisors, one executive assistant, 18 reporters (nine English, nine French), and five scopists. We also have a system of revision for senators. If they have misspoken or misread something, they are able to request a change to the transcript. The debates are not strictly word for word. We prefer to call them ‘polished verbatim.’ In these instances, I have the final say on what is or is not an acceptable change.”
McPherson called his job at the Senate “a unique opportunity to be not only part of a highly skilled and talented team of reporters and editors, but also to have the best seat in the house to watch the political history of Canada unfold. Even before I became a reporter, I had always wanted to work in Parliament. And when I was offered the job, I accepted it without hesitation.”
Even though his job sounds different from what we’re familiar with in the United States, McPherson said the profession faces the same challenges. “Most court administrators in Canada have succumbed to the economic allure of digital reporting and have downplayed the negatives of not having a qualified professional who can report proceedings as they happen,” he said. “However, this has meant that some reporters have applied their expertise on the transcript production end of the process and continue to make their living that way while ensuring that litigants receive their transcripts. Other reporters focus on freelance, captioning, legislative, arbitration, or international reporting work. Canada offers many options for the qualified and skilled realtime reporter.”
When he isn’t working, McPherson plays piano, cooks and travels. But his current passion is helping to settle refugees from war-torn countries into the Ottawa community. “My church, First United Church, has helped to sponsor several families and individuals from Yemen, Syria, Eritrea, and Sudan,” he said. “I have found it incredibly fulfilling. It is amazing to share stories and to introduce new possibilities to people who have known such unimaginable hardship and violence. To see the joy on a child’s face as they play in the snow for the first time when only a year prior they were begging for food in a refugee camp helps to put everything in perspective. We have made incredible friends, laughed and cried, and have had the rich experience of being able to see Canada through the eyes of others.”
Tips for Students
“Love shorthand. Love the process. Love your fingers when they fly, and forgive them when they don’t. Keep breathing.”
Also: “I have learned a lot from others in the reporting field. Mentors, colleagues, conferences, even going through the library of old JCRs have been and continue to be sources of inspiration and guidance. I have also benefitted greatly through certification and professional development training that is offered by NCRA and our provincial association.”
Aimée Suhie, RPR, is a freelance reporter from New Fairfield, Conn., and a regular contributor to the JCR. She can be reached at email@example.com.