Attend Your Refugee Hearing

Your refugee hearing is the central event of the refugee claim process. Learn what to expect on your hearing day. Understand who may attend and what their role is. Be prepared for your virtual or in-person hearing.

About Refugee Hearings

Your refugee hearing is the central event of the refugee claim process.  At your hearing, an Immigration and Refugee Board – Refugee Protection Division (IRB-RPD) Member will make a decision to accept or reject your refugee claim.

The IRB-RPD is an administrative tribunal, not a court. Although administrative tribunals may resemble courts, they are not part of the court system in Canada. An administrative tribunal is generally less formal and operates faster than the traditional court system.

The decision makers are called Members and are not judges. While judges in the court system have general knowledge about many areas of law, decision makers at the administrative tribunal are specially trained in making decisions on refugee claims.

Your hearing is your opportunity to tell your story. The hearing process is meant to help you tell your story and explain why you need Canada’s protection in a confidential, safe, and respectful environment.

Who Will Be at Your Refugee Hearing?

Refugee hearings are private and confidential.

Only the people listed below can participate in your refugee hearing:

The IRB-RPD Member

A Member of the IRB-RPD will preside over your hearing and make the decision to approve or deny your application for refugee protection in Canada. All Members receive special training on refugee protection and are expected to treat the claimants who appear before them with respect and compassion. The Member will read your BOC and review all your evidence before and during the hearing.  At the hearing the Member will ask you questions before making a decision.

Legal representative

Your legal representative might be a lawyer, an immigration consultant, or a representative without fee. In some parts of the country a notary public (Quebec only) or a paralegal (Ontario only) may be permitted to represent you. Your legal representative will assist you in preparing for your refugee hearing and presenting your case to the IRB-RPD. Your legal representative may clarify some things during the hearing, but most often your legal representative is expected to ask questions after the Member finishes with their line of questioning to you. It is important that you are prepared to answer the Member directly.

Minister’s Counsel

The Minister’s Counsel is an employee of either the CBSA or IRCC. They may participate in your refugee hearing in-person or by providing written submissions only. If a Minister’s Counsel participates in your hearing, they will argue that you should not be given refugee status. The Minister’s Counsel may participate in your claim for a number of reasons:

  • They think you are not telling the truth
  • They have questions about your identity or your documents
  • They think you have committed a crime or belong to a terrorist organization.

If a Minister’s Counsel is participating in your hearing, they must send you or your legal representative a Notice of Intervention in which they explain how and why they are participating in your refugee claim. This notice must be provided at least 10 days or more before your hearing.  Read this notice carefully and be prepared to respond to their concerns. If a Minister’s Counsel is present on your hearing day, they will likely ask you questions.

Interpreter

The role of the interpreter is to make sure that you and all the other participants in your hearing understand each other clearly. Even if you understand English or French reasonably well, it is a good idea to have an interpreter present to avoid misunderstandings. IRB interpreters will not share information about your identity or your case with anyone outside of the hearing room.

The IRB-RPD will provide a professional interpreter in your language and dialect for your refugee hearing at no cost to you, if needed. If you did not indicate that you wanted an interpreter on page 9 of your BOC form and you later decide you would like an interpreter, make a request to the IRB-RPD in writing 10 days or more before your hearing. 

Witnesses

You are permitted to invite witnesses to participate in your refugee hearing. A witness is a person, in Canada or in another country, who is able to confirm what you have said in your refugee claim about what happened to you in your country. A witness could also be an expert in questions related to your refugee claim.

Choose your witnesses carefully and with the assistance of your legal representative, if any, and make sure to speak with them before your hearing to prepare. Let your witnesses know that they will be expected to give testimony that is true, accurate and correct.

If you would like to invite a witness to your hearing, you or your legal representative must write to the IRB-RPD (and Minister’s Counsel if they are participating in your hearing) 10 days or more before the hearing and include the following information:

  • The name of your witness
  • The reason for their testimony (for example, if they know about the situation you faced in your country)
  • Your relationship to the witness (if any)
  • How long you think their testimony will take.
Observers

You are permitted to invite one or more observers to your refugee hearing to provide you with emotional support. This could be a friend, relative or member of your community.

At your hearing, the Member will ask observers to identify themselves. The observers you invite to your hearing are not allowed to speak and must remain quiet during the hearing. Observers may not also be witnesses.

Your children 18 years or older

Currently your children under 18 are not required to attend the refugee hearing unless they are specifically asked to attend by the Member. Be sure to have someone to care for your small children in a place separate from where you will participate in the virtual hearing.

Designated Representative

The Designated Representative is expected to protect a claimant’s interests and represent them at the hearing. The IRB-RPD will provide minors and adults who are not able to understand the refugee process with a Designated Representative. The IRB-RPD will normally appoint a parent as the Designated Representative for a minor whose claim is joined with their parent.

Your Hearing: Virtual, In-Person or Hybrid?

There are three types of refugee hearings: virtual, in-person and hybrid.

Virtual hearings happen using computers, with the participants connecting through the internet. 

In-person hearings happen on location at the IRB-RPD office, with participants in the room together.

In a hybrid hearing, the participants in your refugee hearing may participate from different locations, some virtually and some in-person at the IRB-RPD. You might consider requesting a hybrid hearing if you have a virtual hearing but do not have access to a computer or tablet to participate. The IRB-RPD will provide you with a computer or tablet.

Regardless of whether your refugee hearing is virtual or in- person, the order of events is the same, the decision-making process is the same, and the Member who will decide your case must treat you with respect and make a well-reasoned and fair decision on your refugee claim.

If you cannot participate in a virtual hearing

If there is a reason why you believe you cannot participate in a virtual hearing, you or your legal representative can make a request to the IRB-RPD that your hearing be held in-person by filling out this form. You must submit this at least 10 days before your hearing date. The request must contain the reasons why you do not think it would be fair for you to participate in a virtual hearing.

If Your Hearing is Virtual

About virtual hearings

Your refugee hearing will take place in an online video conference using Microsoft Teams software. You or your legal representative will receive a Notice to Appear (NTA) when a date and time has been scheduled by the IRB-RPD. Read this notice carefully because it will explain how to participate in the virtual hearing.

Approximately five days before your virtual refugee hearing, your legal representative will receive a link to enter the video conference. Your legal representative will share this link with you. If you have no legal representative the link will be emailed to you directly. Make sure the IRB-RPD has your correct email address, telephone number and mailing address.

Changing your hearing date or time

If you need to change your hearing date or time, you must make a request to do so to the IRB-RPD.

You or your legal representative must:

  • Tell the IRB-RPD in writing (by email or fax) at least three working days before your hearing
  • Give the IRB-RPD three other possible dates and times for your hearing that are within 10 working days of your original hearing
  • Submit a medical certificate from your doctor, if your reason is medical; if you cannot obtain a medical certificate, you must include a letter explaining why you could not obtain one.