At Your Refugee Hearing

Your refugee hearing is the main event of the refugee claim process. Learn what to expect on your hearing day. Understand who will be there and what their role is. Be prepared for your virtual (online) or in-person hearing.

About Refugee Hearings

Your refugee hearing is the main part of the refugee claim process. At your hearing, an (IRB-RPD) Member will decide to accept or reject your refugee claim.

Your hearing might seem like a court but it is less formal. The decision makers are called Members and are specially trained to decide refugee claims.

Your hearing is your chance to tell your story and explain why you need Canada’s protection. It will be private and safe. A Member will decide your claim fairly.

Who Will Be at Your Refugee Hearing?

Only certain people can be at your refugee hearing:

The IRB-RPD Member

A Member of the IRB-RPD runs the hearing and decides to accept or reject your claim. The Member is expected to treat you with respect and care. The Member reads your BOC Form and looks at all your evidence before and at the hearing. They ask you questions before deciding your claim.

Legal representative

Your legal representative might be a lawyer, an immigration consultant, or a representative without fee. In Quebec, a notary public, or in Ontario, a paralegal may be able to represent you. While the Member is asking you questions, your legal representative can explain things to you. But usually they must wait to ask questions until after the Member is finished. You must be prepared to answer the Member yourself.

Minister’s Counsel

The Minister’s Counsel is an employee of either the CBSA or IRCC. They might come to your hearing or they might just send documents. If a Minister’s Counsel is involved, it is because they have concerns:

  • about who you are or about your documents,
  • that you are not telling the truth, or
  • that you are a criminal or in a terrorist organization.

Before the hearing, the Minister’s Counsel must send you or your legal representative a Notice of Intervention. In the notice, they explain how and why they are involved. You should get the notice at least ten days or more before your hearing. Read it carefully and be prepared to speak about it. If a Minister’s Counsel is at your hearing, they will likely ask you questions.

Interpreter

The role of the interpreter is to make sure that everyone understands each other clearly. Even if you understand English or French, it is a good idea to have an interpreter to avoid mistakes. IRB interpreters do not share information about you or your claim with anyone outside of the hearing room.

The IRB-RPD will get you a free professional interpreter in your language and dialect. If you did not say that you wanted an interpreter in your BOC form, you can still ask for one. Write to the IRB-RPD ten days or more before your hearing to ask for one.

Witnesses

You can have witnesses at your hearing to speak about your claim. A witness is a person who is able to confirm what happened to you. They can be in Canada or in another country. A witness can also be an expert about issues related to your refugee claim.

Choose your witnesses carefully with the help of your legal representative. Make sure to prepare them before your hearing. Let your witnesses know that what they say must be true. 

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 necessary) ten days or more before the hearing. Give them:

  • The name of your witness
  • A short statement about why they are speaking 
  • Your relationship to the witness
  • How long you think they will speak
Observers

You can invite one or more observers to your refugee hearing for emotional support. This could be a friend, a relative, or a member of your community.

At your hearing, the Member asks observers to say who they are. But observers are not allowed to speak and must be quiet during the hearing. They cannot also be a witness.

Your children 18 years or older

Children under 18 years old do not have to go to the refugee hearing unless the Member asks them to. For a videoconference hearing, be sure to have someone care for your young children away from where you are.

Designated Representative

The IRB-RPD names a Designated Representative to represent minor children or adults who cannot understand the refugee process. The Designated Representative protects their rights and acts for them at the hearing. The IRB-RPD usually chooses a parent as the Designated Representative when a child’s claim is joined with their parent’s claim.

Your Hearing: Virtual or In-Person?

There are two types of refugee hearings: virtual (online) and in-person.

A virtual hearing is a videoconference on a computer. Everyone appears on a computer screen. Use your own computer or tablet.

If you do not have a computer or tablet or internet, ask the IRB-RPD for help. The IRB-RPD can give you a computer or tablet to use at their location. Ask the IRB-RPD in your region by phone, email, or mail. You must contact them at least ten working days before your hearing.

An in-person hearing is at the IRB-RPD office. Everyone is in the room together.

All hearings are the same whether they are virtual or in-person.

If you do not want a virtual hearing

All refugee hearings are scheduled as virtual, but may be changed to in-person.

If there is a reason why you do not want a virtual hearing, you or your legal representative can ask the IRB-RPD to change it to in-person. You must fill out this form and send it in at least ten days before your hearing. You must say why you would like or require an in-person hearing.

If Your Hearing is Virtual

Your virtual hearing is a videoconference using Microsoft Teams. You or your legal representative will get a Notice to Appear after the IRB-RPD sets a date and time. Read this notice carefully because it explains what to do.

You need:

  • Reliable, secure, high-speed internet
  • A computer or tablet 
  • Microsoft Teams software
  • A quiet and private space

About five days before the hearing, the IRB-RPD will send your legal representative a link for the videoconference. They will share this link with you. If you have no legal representative, the IRB-RPD will email the link to you. Make sure the IRB-RPD has your correct email address, telephone number, and mailing address.

Change your hearing date or time

If you need to change your hearing date or time because of an emergency or illness, you must ask 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.
  • Suggest three other dates and times for your hearing. The dates must be within ten business days of your original hearing date.
  • Send a medical certificate from your doctor if your reason is medical. If you cannot get a medical certificate, you must include a letter explaining why not.

If Your Hearing is In-Person

Your in-person hearing happens only if your request for an in-person hearing is approved by the IRB-RPD, or if the IRB-RPD decides your hearing should be in-person.

Your in-person hearing takes place at the IRB-RPD office. You or your legal representative will get a Notice to Appear after the IRB-RPD sets a date and time. The Notice to Appear gives you the address where your hearing will happen. Read this notice carefully because it explains what to do.

Change your hearing date or time

If you need to change your hearing date or time because of an emergency or illness, you must ask 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.
  • Suggest three other dates and times for your hearing. The dates must be within ten business days of your original hearing date.
  • Send a medical certificate from your doctor if your reason is medical. If you cannot get a medical certificate, you must include a letter explaining why not.

Your Hearing Day

Hearings usually take half a day with a short break halfway through the hearing. Some hearings are shorter, and some longer, depending on the refugee claim. 

At the beginning of the hearing, the Member introduces everyone and explains the hearing process. You must promise to tell the truth.

The Member looks at all the exhibits (documents) that you sent in as evidence. They give each exhibit a number. The Member may also look at any original documents that you bring to the hearing.

The Member and your lawyer (if you have one) then asks you questions. If you do not have a lawyer, the Member may let you take more time to talk. The Minister’s counsel (if present) may also ask you questions.

If you bring any witnesses, they speak one at a time after you tell your story.

Finally, the Member asks you or your lawyer to explain why you think your claim should be accepted. The Minister’s counsel (if present) makes their comments last.

At the end of the hearing, the Member may tell you their decision to accept or reject your claim or they may say they will send you their decision in the mail.