An Introduction to Canada’s Refugee Determination System

Disclaimer: The information in this video is current as of July 2017.  Each person’s situation is unique. This video provides general information only and is not intended or provided as legal advice. Additional information on the IRB’s refugee determination process is available on the IRB website at: www.irb-cisr.gc.ca

Every year, thousands of people arrive in Canada seeking refugee protection. Individuals seeking refugee protection are generally escaping very difficult circumstances and come to this country in search of a better, safer future. Canada’s refugee determination system is recognized worldwide for the fairness of its proceedings and the quality of its decision-making.

To be considered a refugee in Canada, it must be determined that you have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and are unable or, because of this fear, unwilling to seek protection from your country of origin.

Or, you can be recognized as a ‘person in need of protection’ if it is determined that you would face a risk to your life, a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, or a danger of torture if you were to return to your country of origin.

If it is determined that you do not have a well-founded fear of persecution or are not a person in need of protection, you will not be granted refugee protection.

Which governmental organizations are involved in the refugee claim process?

Three federal organizations play a different yet important part in responding to refugee claims made in Canada:

  • Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)
  • The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)
  • The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act defines the role and responsibilities of each organization.

The Immigration and Refugee Board is Canada’s largest independent administrative tribunal.

This video briefly explains how the Immigration and Refugee Board makes decisions about refugee matters.

Three different chapters will explain the refugee determination process: a first will explain how your refugee claim is referred to the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board for decision. The second and third chapters will discuss the preparation for your hearing and the unfolding of the hearing itself.

After viewing, we strongly urge you to consult our website for more detailed and up to date information.  In particular, please carefully review the Claimant and Appellant’s guides.

Our website is www.irb-cisr.gc.ca

Step 1: The Referral

The refugee claim process starts when you express an intention to make a claim for refugee protection when you arrive in Canada.

This could be at any port of entry (an airport, a seaport or a Canada-United States border crossing). At a port of entry, claims are received by officers of the Canada Border Services Agency. Claims can also be made from within Canada to an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or Canada Border Services Agency office.

Once you make your claim for refugee protection, you will be required to attend an eligibility interview with an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or Canada Border Services Agency officer. Based on your responses, the officer will decide if your claim is eligible for referral to the Immigration and Refugee Board. 

If it is the case, the officer will give you a Notice to Appear with a date and time for your hearing before the Refugee Protection Division.

It is during this hearing that a decision-maker from the Refugee Protection Division will ask you questions to help him or her make a decision on your claim.

During your eligibility interview, the Officer will ask you if you want your hearing in either English or French and whether you will need interpretation in another language or dialect.

Remember that before you leave, the Officer will provide you with a ‘Notice to Appear’, which will tell you where to go and when to appear for your hearing. You will also receive a Claimant’s kit and Important Instructions in various languages. These documents will provide you with important information and instructions regarding the refugee protection process, including information about the documents that you must provide to the Immigration and Refugee Board.

It is your responsibility to ensure that you understand and comply with these instructions.

An important document for your refugee claim is the Basis of Claim Form. The Basis of Claim Form is your opportunity to tell your story and explain why you need Canada’s protection. The responses you provide on this form will help the decision-maker understand your claim. 

It is also essential that you tell the truth and provide complete and detailed responses to the questions asked in the Basis of Claim Form.

When you submit your form, you will also need to attach the required identity and travel documents and other relevant documents you have in support of your claim.

If you request refugee protection at a port-of-entry, whether at a land border, a seaport or at an airport, and your claim is referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board by the officer, you will have 15 days to provide the original and a copy of your completed Basis of Claim Form to the Immigration and Refugee Board.
If you have spent time in Canada and are making a claim at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or a Canada Border Services Agency inland office, you will be expected to have completed a Basis of Claim Form prior to coming to an interview and provide it to the Officer who conducts your eligibility interview.

If your claim is eligible and referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board, the Officer will forward a copy of your completed Basis of Claim Form to the Immigration and Refugee Board on your behalf.

If you move or change your address at any time during the refugee protection process, you must inform the Immigration and Refugee Board as well as Canada Border Services Agency or Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, depending on which office referred your claim to the Immigration and Refugee Board.

If you obtain any identity or travel documents after you have submitted your completed Basis of Claim Form you must submit two copies of these to the Immigration and Refugee Board as soon as possible.

All your documents must be submitted to the Immigration and Refugee Board no later than 10 days before your hearing.  This can include such things as police, medical and other documents that support your claim.

Step 2: Hearing Preparation

Your refugee protection hearing is an important part of the refugee determination process. 

Your hearing will be held in private before a decision-maker of the Immigration Refugee Board’s Refugee Protection Division, also referred to as a ‘member’. This member has received special training in refugee protection matters and is experienced in asking questions about a claim. 

To prepare for the hearing, the member will review the forms completed at your eligibility interview, your Basis of Claim Form, and any other documents that you have submitted.
If they were not already provided to the Immigration and Refugee Board, also remember that you must bring the originals of your documents, including identity documents, to your hearing. You can bring copies if originals are not available.

For specific timelines on what information or documents to share with the Immigration and Refugee Board and when, consult the Claimant’s Guide.

The Claimant’s Guide is available on the Immigration and Refugee Board website at: www.irb-cisr.gc.ca

During your hearing, you will have a chance to tell the decision maker why you are afraid, and about whom and what you fear.  In most cases, this hearing is when the decision on whether to grant you refugee status will be made.  At other times, the decision-maker will reserve his or her decision for later.

The decision maker will expect you to be able to answer a number of important questions at your hearing, such as:

  • What do you fear will happen to you if you return to your country of origin?
  • Do you think you will be harmed if you return to your country of origin?
  • Did you seek help from authorities, including police or any other organizations, in your country?
  • Did you try to move to another part of your country?

There is a possibility that the Minister intervenes at your hearing, in which case you will receive a notice of intent to intervene.

In such a case, a representative from the Canada Border Services Agency or Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada acts as the Minister’s counsel before the Refugee Protection Division.

More information on the Minister’s participation at your hearing is available in the Claimant’s guide or on our Website.

The Immigration and Refugee Board has a team of researchers who gather reliable information and write objective reports on the conditions in the countries of origin of claimants. They collect information and write about human rights and other issues affecting refugee claimants.

This research, available on the Immigration and Refugee Board website, includes “National Documentation Packages” organized by country. A decision maker may ask you questions during your hearing that are based on these reports.

You or your counsel may go to the Immigration and Refugee Board website to review the documents in the National Documentation Package for your home country as the Refugee Protection Division may consider them when deciding your claim.

You have the right to be represented by counsel at your hearing.

Counsel may be anyone that you choose. However, if you pay your counsel, then he or she must be a lawyer, a notary in the province of Québec, an authorized paralegal, or a member of an approved association such as the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council. 

If you have counsel for the hearing, that individual must be available on the date and time indicated on the ‘Notice to Appear’ for a hearing.

If you have an eligibility interview at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or Canada Border Services Agency and have retained counsel, bring his or her dates of availability for the hearing with you.

Step 3: The Refugee Protection Division Hearing

On the day of your hearing, you must present yourself at the location and time indicated on your notice to appear.

If you fail to show up for your hearing you will have to attend a special hearing within 5 days and provide a satisfactory explanation for not attending the hearing. Otherwise, your claim can be declared “abandoned” and you will have to leave Canada without having had your refugee protection claim considered.

If you have requested an interpreter for a language other than English or French, the Immigration and Refugee Board will provide one at your hearing. Your counsel and your interpreter will be seated with you during your hearing. Videoconferencing may be used if you and the decision-maker are at different locations.

Sometimes, two or more people make a joint claim for refugee protection. This would be the case when a family is making a claim together.

All adult claimants may speak for themselves during the hearing but in most cases, one person acts as the spokesperson for the family.

Other family members will be given the opportunity to provide additional information and confirm that the information being provided is accurate.

All claimants are required to attend the hearing. Young children must be identified but they will not normally stay in the hearing room. In those cases, you are asked to bring another adult to care for the children outside the hearing room.
Claimants under 18 years of age or who are unable to understand the nature of the proceedings will normally have a family member or other representative to help them. This person is referred to as a designated representative.

Hearings are held in private and any person wishing to observe your hearing will need your permission. One exception is that a representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees could be present at your hearing.

As you enter the hearing room you will notice that the room allows for the member to sit at the front; you will sit across from the member. Your counsel, if you have one, and a minister’s representative if he or she chooses to participate in your claim, can sit at the side tables. The interpreter, if present, will usually sit next to you.

The member will start the recording system and proceed to open the hearing.

“This is a hearing of the claim for refugee protection made by Tatyana Dushku from Albania.

This hearing is being held at the IRB office in Toronto on January 15th, 2013. 

My name is Joanne Smythe and I will be deciding your claim.

As the hearing begins, you will first be required to formally promise to tell the truth.

“Could you please stand and raise your right hand. Do you solemnly affirm that the evidence that you will give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.  You may be seated.”

 “The claimant is represented by counsel, Mr. Johnson.”

The decision-maker will then explain the process that will follow.

“I am now going to begin asking you questions about your claim for refugee protection.  My questions are for the purpose of gathering information to allow me to make a fair and informed decision about your claim.  If a question is unclear please say so and it will be rephrased.”

All hearings are audio recorded but these recordings, like the hearing itself, are confidential. It is important that you be truthful and provide as much information as possible about your circumstances; the reason you left your country; and why you are seeking protection. The decision maker will need all these details to make an informed and fair decision.

If you are represented by counsel, he or she may ask you additional questions to provide further information.  If a representative of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or the Canada Border Services Agency, referred to as the Minister’s counsel, participates in your claim and is present at the hearing, they may also ask you additional questions.

You, or your counsel if you have one, or any other person participating in the hearing, will be given an opportunity to make final statements about your claim.

Based on your responses to the questions and the information in the supporting documents, the decision-maker will make a decision. In most cases, you can expect to be told right away whether or not you are receiving refugee protection and the reasons why.

In other cases, the decision-maker may need additional time to make his or her decision, in which case you will receive written reasons and a Notice of Decision at a later date.

Note that the Minister has the right to appeal a positive decision made by the Refugee Protection Division, through a Canada Border Services Agency or Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada representative.

If your claim is rejected, the written Notice of Decision sent to you from the Refugee Protection Division will include an explanation of the reasons why your claim was rejected.

The Notice of Decision will indicate whether you may appeal the decision to the Refugee Appeal Division or whether you may make an application to the Federal Court for judicial review, should you wish to do so.

Details on your rights and what to expect following the Refugee Protection Division’s decision will be provided to you with the Notice of Decision.

On behalf of Canadians, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada’s mandate is to resolve immigration and refugee cases efficiently, fairly and in accordance with the law.

All Immigration and Refugee Board decisions have an impact on the lives and security of those who appear before it.

As such, decision makers at the Immigration and Refugee Board are committed to making quality decisions, based on principles of fairness and natural justice.

This video provides an overview of the refugee protection process in Canada. It is important that you and all those involved in your case understand the refugee protection claim process.

We strongly urge you to consult our website for the most up-to-date information and resources to guide you through this process.

Please visit our website at: www.irb-cisr.gc.ca.

Additional footage and stills provided by:
Canada Border Services Agency
Canadian Tourism Commission
Refugees International
UNHCR