- Following the onset of the pandemic, the Immigration and Refugee Board adopted a business resumption strategy based on both protecting the health of its employees and those who appeared before the Board, while providing access to justice to the extent possible.
- The strategy included the use of remote hearings.
- Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, refugee hearings and certain immigration division proceedings must be held in the absence of the public. As such, the IRB established the necessary processes, including the requirement for consent from remote parties, as well as a secure MS Teams platform to support the private nature of these proceedings.
- Following successful pilots this summer, the Board shifted its approach to conducting hearings, such that remote hearings are now the default operating model for the duration of the pandemic and pending an evaluation of its effectiveness.
- In the month of October, fifty-four percent (54%) of hearings held across the IRB were held remotely, across all divisions. The Board expects that the majority of its hearings will be held remotely for the remainder of the fiscal year.
- During this remote hearing pilot, the RPD conducted more than 100 hearings with counsel and claimants from across the country using the Microsoft Teams platform.
- Following remote hearings held by the RPD, 95% of claimants and counsel who responded to a post-hearing survey agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the RPD’s approach to holding remote hearings through Microsoft Teams.
As a result, the RPD is now in the process of expanding the use of these hearings. Today, the RPD is offering the option of a virtual hearing at the time of scheduling to all eligible claimants and most claimants are choosing to proceed by way of a virtual hearing.
The Board expects that the majority of its hearings will be held remotely for the remainder of the fiscal year as follows:
- Refugee Protection Division 70%
- Refugee Appeal Division 100%
- Immigration Division:
- 100% of detention reviews
- 70% percent of admissibility hearings
- Immigration Appeal Division 85%
- The Immigration Division (ID) is also scheduling remote hearings using MS Teams and teleconference for remote hearings. The ID is continuing to ramp up the use of MS Teams wherever possible.
- However, in certain remote hearing contexts, particularly involving correctional facilities, the use of MS Teams is not possible because facilities are not set up with MS Teams and pandemic measures are preventing access to computers which are already limited. The ID is continuing to use teleconferencing in those contexts.
The Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) has issued a practice notice stating that virtual hearings will be used when a hearing is approved.
Security of Remote Hearings
- All matters on the refugee side of the IRB are confidential and protected at level “B”, and so correspondence and hearings must be held at that level. Therefore, the RPD developed the remote hearing pilot with these constraints in mind. The IRB is among the first across the Government of Canada to deploy MS teams at Protected B level.
- Other commercial of the shelf videoconferencing software could not be used as they are not protected at level “B”.
- Detention reviews across all regions require a connection between a member and a correctional facility or between a member and the detained side of the Immigration Holding Centres (IHC) in Toronto and Montreal. Teleconference is being used for these purposes.
- While some correctional facilities have videoconferencing capabilities, they may not be accessible due to pandemic protection measures within those facilities or conversely, members working remotely may not have access to connecting with the video platforms used by those facilities from home. Such facilities, which often fall under the purview of the provinces, are not setup for MS Teams at this time and even if they were, the same restrictions preventing access to video would prevent access to MS Teams since access to computers is limited.
- Admissibility hearings for detained persons across all regions, and that require a connection between a member and a correctional facility, are being conducted by teleconference for the same reasons.