Interpreter Handbook

October 2017

Table of Contents

About this Handbook

This handbook is a tool for interpreters who provide or show interest in providing services to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). It will give you basic information on the IRB environment and the role of the Interpreter at the IRB.

1.0 Introduction to the IRB and its Tribunal Processes

As an interpreter providing services to the IRB, it is important to understand the context of your work.

1.1 What is the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB)?

The IRB is Canada's largest independent administrative tribunal. It is responsible for making well-reasoned decisions on immigration and refugee matters, efficiently, fairly and in accordance with the law.

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has the overall responsibility for immigration and refugee matters. IRCC determines claims for refugee protection made abroad at Canadian embassies and consulates. It is responsible for selecting immigrants, issuing visitors' visas, and granting citizenship. It is also IRCC that determines the eligibility of all refugee protection claims made in Canada and refers eligible claims to the IRB for a decision.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is responsible for carrying out enforcement functions related to immigration and refugee matters. These include detention, removals, investigations, and intelligence and immigration control functions overseas.

The IRB reports to Parliament through the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship but is independent from IRCC and the Minister.

All IRB decisions have an impact on the lives and security of the individuals appearing before the IRB. They contribute to the security of Canadians, the integrity of Canada's immigration and refugee systems, and the strength and diversity of our nation. Refugees and immigrants have always been part of Canadian history and will continue to help shape our future.

The IRB has four divisions:

  1. Refugee Protection Division (RPD) decides claims for refugee protection made by people already in Canada.
  2. Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) decides whether to allow or dismiss appeals of decisions made by the Refugee Protection Division (RPD).
  3. Immigration Appeal Division (IAD) decides appeals on immigration matters (removal orders, sponsorship and residency obligations).
  4. Immigration Division (ID) is responsible for conducting admissibility hearings and detention reviews

As an Interpreter, you may have the opportunity to provide your services for proceedings taking place before each of these divisions.

1.2 What is the tribunal process at the IRB?

Each division has its own mandate but they all follow an administrative tribunal process similar to what happens in a court, though less formal. This process is flexible as long as it ensures that the IRB makes well-reasoned, efficient and fair decisions.

In the tribunal process:

  • A person appearing before the IRB has the right to be represented, at his or her own expense, by counsel - a lawyer, immigration consultant, trusted advisor or family member.
  • A person has the right to be heard and to present evidence and arguments to an impartial decision-maker.
  • Hearings are usually held in person, but they can also be held by videoconference, telephone or other means that allow for a fair hearing.
  • Proceedings may be in English or French and a person appearing before the IRB may also use an interpreter.
  • All testimony is given under oath (by swearing on a holy book) or by affirmation (a solemn promise to tell the truth).
  • The people who hear the cases and make the decisions are called members. In most cases, one member hears the case.
  • Hearings of refugee claims are usually held in private.
  • Other hearings are usually open to the public. That means media or members of the public may observe hearings or get information about a case.
  • The setting and procedures for hearings are generally informal, so evidence is not limited by technical or legal rules.
  • Each division has rules on procedures. The rules cover matters such as time limits, evidence, documents and other responsibilities of counsel or the people appearing before the IRB.
  • All decisions are based on the evidence provided and the law.
  • Members must provide reasons for final decisions. The member will state them at the end of the hearing or, sometimes the member may write out the reasons for the decision later, after the hearing.

For additional information on the IRB, please refer to the IRB website.

2.0 The IRB and Interpreters

2.1 When does the IRB require the help of interpreters?

Canadian law recognizes the right for everyone to a fair hearing. Therefore, the IRB provides interpretation for any party who does not understand or speak any of the two official languages used in IRB proceedings.

2.2 How can I provide interpretation services to the IRB?

To provide interpretation services to the IRB, you must successfully pass an accreditation test. Non-accredited interpreters may be retained in very exceptional circumstances and only where it is necessary to safeguard the fundamental rights of the subject of the proceedings. This may happen in cases where the individual appearing before the IRB only speaks a very rare language or dialect.

You must also consent to and pass a security screening.

2.3 What is the role of an interpreter at the IRB?

The role of an interpreter at the IRB is to provide a clear channel of communication between decision-makers and the individuals appearing before the IRB with culturally, linguistically diverse backgrounds.

In addition to overcoming the barrier of language between IRB decision-makers and IRB clients, the interpreter plays a key role in helping the IRB perform its core mandate: making well-reasoned decisions on immigration and refugee matters, efficiently, fairly and in accordance with the law.

2.4 Is an interpreter an employee of the IRB?

No, an interpreter is not an employee of the IRB. An interpreter is an independent contractor called upon by the IRB on an "as-and-if needed" basis.

2.5 How are Interpreters scheduled?

Interpreter Units make every effort to ensure work is equally distributed to all the interpreters by language/dialects, while accommodating special situations, such as availability, language dialects, conflict of interest, etc.

Interpreters are scheduled on an on-call basis and you may be booked for a hearing up to three weeks in advance. In the event of a last-minute request or a cancellation, you may be contacted for an assignment on the day of a hearing. In all cases, the Interpreter Unit will contact you to enquire about your availability. It is your responsibility to ensure that you confirm your availability with the Interpreter Unit. The Interpreter Unit, will in turn, provide you with the check-in time as well as the duration of the assignment.

You may be scheduled for a half day hearing beginning in the morning or beginning in the afternoon. The start time may differ depending on the IRB Division that you have been scheduled to appear before.  In all circumstances, you must be present 15 minutes before the proceeding and you need to remain for the duration of the scheduled assignment unless otherwise directed by the Decision-maker and/or the Interpreter Unit.

If you are unavailable for an assignment, you must contact the Interpreter Unit to cancel the booking no later than 48 hours prior to the date of the scheduled booking.

If your assignment is cancelled, the Interpreter Unit will advise you as soon as possible.

A contract with the IRB does not include a clause that guarantees a fixed or minimum number of times a contractor may be requested to provide services.

2.6 What type of interpretation will I conduct at the IRB?

You will interpret orally the entire dialogue and in some cases, short documents submitted before, during, or after IRB proceedings. You will have to interpret both from the language of the person who is the subject of the proceedings into English or French, and from English or French into the language of that person concerned, using consecutive interpretation.  Whatever is said in one language should be interpreted faithfully and accurately into the other language using the exact equivalent meaning and structure.

2.7 What means of interpretation are used at the IRB?

Generally, all the participants in the process are in the same room and in-person interpretation is used. However, sometimes you may be required to interpret over the telephone or in the context of a videoconference.

2.8 How does it work to provide telephone interpretation for the IRB?

If you provide telephone interpretation, arrangements should be made for you to do it from an IRB office. When this is not possible, you may provide the service from your home.  If it is conducted from your personal residence, you must ensure that:

  • A land-line telephone is used; cellular phones are only permitted in exceptional circumstances and only with prior consent by the Division. Should you use a cellular phone, please ensure that it is fully charged for the duration of the proceeding.
  • Others who may reside with you should not interrupt on the telephone line.
  • You are alone in a room in order to ensure the confidentiality of the proceeding and to minimize background voices that could distract other hearing participants.
  • Call-waiting is disabled.

It is possible that you may be interpreting in proceedings that are taking place in a different province and a different time-zone. You must take this into account when you accept to provide telephone interpretation services.

2.9 What is the context of interpretation at the IRB?

The IRB may need to retain your services in different settings: a RPD hearing, a RAD hearing, an IAD hearing, an ID hearing/review or in other situations where IRB personnel may need to speak with a subject of a proceeding. IRB proceedings may be non-adversarial, as is usually the case for RPD hearings, or adversarial in the case of ID, IAD and RAD hearings. An adversarial hearing involves opposing parties, where one is presenting against the case of the other. In a non-adversarial hearing, there is no one presenting an opposing case.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), the Balanced Refugee Reform Act (BRRA) and the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act (PCISA) are the statutes that govern the activities of the IRB although other statutes are also referred to. While certain terms within the Act may have a common meaning, in the context of this legislation they may have a more refined legal meaning.  We encourage you to refer to the Acts to appreciate the distinction.

a) Common procedures at IRB hearings

Hearings before the IRB usually last three hours or more.

The following is a basic outline of common procedures that you may encounter at a proceeding before the IRB.  This is to be used as a guide only, since the order and content of the steps may vary at the discretion of the Member presiding at the hearing.

  1. All participants are identified.
  2. The interpreter is administered an oath or asked to confirm that an oath or an affirmation to interpret accurately was made at a previous IRB proceeding
  3. Interpreter and person appearing before the IRB are asked by the presiding member to confirm that they understand one another.
  4. The presiding member may deal with preliminary matters or ask counsel if there are any preliminary matters to be discussed.
  5. The subject of the proceeding will be asked to make a solemn affirmation and will be examined by the presiding member, their counsel and then counsel for the Minister if the Minister is intervening
  6. In adversarial hearings, the Minister will present evidence followed by the person concerned or his lawyer.
  7. Counsel will make legal submissions and make observations in his/her summation of the case.
  8. At the end of the hearing the member may provide the decision orally or reserve their decision.

b) Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

An ADR conference is a proceeding before the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD) that is different from a regular appeal hearing. It is an informal meeting between an Appellant and an official from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) who is referred to as Minister's counsel. An Early Resolution Officer (ERO) from the IAD assists the parties in an effort to resolve the case simply, quickly, and fairly. If the case is resolved through the ADR conference, a hearing is not required. An ADR conference normally takes approximately one hour to complete.

Outline of procedure of an ADR Conference

  1. The ERO will make an opening statement and give the parties further details about the process.
  2. The ERO and Minister's counsel will ask the Appellant some questions about his/her case and ask him/her to explain why he or she thinks that the appeal should be allowed.
  3. The ERO may meet separately with Minister's counsel and with the Appellant to specifically discuss whether the case can be resolved.
  4. The ERO may provide the Appellant and Minister's counsel with an opinion as to the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
  5. If Minister's counsel agrees that the appeal should be allowed, a Summary of Agreement will be prepared. A member of the IAD must approve each settlement.  Once approved, an order allowing the appeal will be issued. The case will then continue to be processed.
  6. If Minister's counsel does not agree that the appeal should be allowed, the Appellant will be given the choice of withdrawing the appeal or proceeding to a hearing.
  7. If the Appellant chooses to proceed to a hearing, the ERO will arrange for a hearing date.

c) Change date or time (CDT) hearing

Change Date and Time (CDT) hearings are proceedings that take place only at the RPD. These proceedings are used to decide on an application put forward by the claimant, his/her counsel, or the Minister's Counsel to change the date and time for a scheduled hearing. It is possible, on the day of, or prior to a scheduled hearing, that a claimant may apply for a CDT. In the situation that it is on the day of the hearing, the Coordinating Member will refer the application to a special CDT hearing for a decision on the application.  As an Interpreter you maybe required to interpret at the CDT hearing and if the application is not accepted, then proceed to interpret at the previously scheduled hearing.

d) Refugee Appeal Division

The Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) is responsible for reviewing the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) decisions and is independent from the RPD. The RAD may order oral hearings in certain circumstances when there is "new" evidence. At a RAD hearing, the appellant person who is the subject of the appeal, or other witnesses, may require an interpreter during the duration of the hearing. As an interpreter you will be scheduled to interpret the hearing.

3.0 Responsibilities of the Interpreters

The IRB expect Interpreters to:

  • Be well prepared
  • Ensure fairness
  • Interpret accurately
  • Communicate properly
  • Respect the confidentiality of the IRB
  • Adopt a professional conduct

3.1 Be well prepared

Before providing your services in an IRB setting, the IRB expects that you familiarize yourself with the terminology used during IRB proceedings. You are expected to take the time to review the glossary (see attached annex) and translate the most commonly used words into the other language of interpretation. This familiarization will assist you in your work and increase your efficiency as you will more rapidly be able to find the precise word or term.

Individuals appearing before the IRB may have a sexual orientation or gender identity or expression (SOGIE) that does not conform to traditional norms. You should familiarize yourself with SOGIE terminology and language by reading the Chairperson’s Guideline 9: Proceedings Before the IRB Involving Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE), paying particular attention to Section 4 (Use of Appropriate Language) which highlights the importance of employing appropriate language and terminology when providing interpretation services in proceedings involving persons with diverse SOGIE. You should also familiarize yourself with the IRB Glossary of Terms Associated with SOGIE.

You may use an ordinary dictionary, a legal dictionary, a calendar to convert dates from other countries and the Interpreter Handbook during the proceedings.

Persons appearing before the IRB may have experienced trauma. You should be aware and prepared for the fact that sensitive and emotional issues may arise during the proceeding.

You may want to use a pen and paper to make notes to help you during the proceedings. However, at the end of the hearing, all material related to the proceedings must be left in the room and any notes you have made must be destroyed.

3.2 Ensure fairness

An Interpreter must be objective and impartial. Your role is to provide interpretation. You may not give advice or explanations to the person who is the subject of the proceedings. You must never, by your body language, indicate that you agree or disagree with the person's case. You must never favour one party. The IRB must be confident that you do not have a conflict of interest. You must disclose to the case management officer, the clerk or the presiding decision-maker any real or potential conflict of interest you may have with the subject of the proceedings (see Rule 4 of the Code of Conduct).

3.3 Interpret accurately

There is a legal obligation to interpret exactly what has been said. The precise communication of the particular word or phrase used can be critical to a proper decision. Please take the time you need; it is more important to be accurate than to be quick.

Do's and Don'ts
Do's Don'ts
Do: Interpret only the words you have been asked to interpret - no more, no less Don't: Summarize, paraphrase, condense or exaggerate.
Do: Interpret in the same person as the speaker.  If a speaker says "I will", interpret it as "I will" (NOT as "he/she will"). Don't: Preface your interpretation with "She said or he said".
Do: Inform the decision-maker if no direct interpretation for a word exists or if you can't remember the meaning of a word used. Don't: Make-up an alternative terminology.
Do: Reflect exactly what is said. Don't: Give any approximation.
Do: Correct yourself immediately if you realize that you have made a mistake or if a mistake is pointed out. Don't: be lenient with errors.

When interpreting for a person with diverse SOGIE, it is important not to make assumptions or rely on stereotypes and to remember that terms associated with diverse SOGIE do not always translate appropriately across cultures. It is important to rely on language that reflects the self-identification of the person appearing before the board. Listen carefully to the language the person uses to describe themselves and their partners.

When possible while interpreting, translate the exact word the individual uses and do not use approximations. The most appropriate language to use is the chosen terminology, names, or pronouns requested by the individual concerned. If there is no exact translation, use gender inclusive language where possible, such as “spouse” or “partner.”

3.4 Communicate properly

Before the beginning of an IRB proceeding, take a moment to ensure that you can communicate with the person and vice versa, to ensure that both of you are satisfied that you understand each other. When the proceeding starts, the presiding decision-maker will ask you if this has been done.

If the person who is the subject of the proceeding does not understand a question asked during the hearing, advise the presiding decision-maker of the person's response, and the presiding decision-maker will provide instructions.

You should try to use the same tone and level of language as the person speaking. Adjust yourself to that person's style. You will have to control the person's flow of speech, possibly by hand signs; otherwise, you may have difficulty recalling everything that the person says. You may have to interrupt when a person talks for too long and explain that you need time to interpret what has been said.

You may find it useful to take notes to help you remember the message of the speaker, including key words. It is a good practice to note names, dates and numbers because they can be easily forgotten or confused.

3.5 Respect the confidentiality of the IRB

As an interpreter under contract with the IRB, you are bound by professional secrecy.You cannot, within or outside the IRB, discuss any matter for which you provide services to the IRB.

3.6 Adopt a professional conduct

  • Each presiding decision-maker at an RPD, IAD, RAD or ID proceeding may have a slightly different style and may follow a different procedure. Always take instructions from the presiding decision-maker.
  • If any problems arise during the proceedings, advise the presiding decision-maker. You should also inform the Duty Desk, immediately following the hearing.
  • The IRB views it as improper and unprofessional for an interpreter to seek to withdraw from a hearing, particularly in mid-hearing, for any supposed reason of conscience; the interpreter's role is to interpret, not to judge.
  • If you find you are unable to properly interpret because of the dialectic or related difficulties, you must advise the presiding decision-maker. 
  • If the proceedings are recessed, adjourned, postponed or concluded, you should go to the reception area or to the interpreters' lounge to wait for further instructions. You should always advise the hearing support assistant or the Duty Desk before leaving the premises.

If your interpretation is challenged by counsel or by the person who is the subject of the proceedings, you should be able to explain your choice of words if requested. In any event, abide by the decision of the presiding decision-maker. Always inform the interpreter coordinator if your interpretation has been challenged.

The rules of conduct that the IRB expects the interpreter to follow are formally drafted in a "code of conduct" that is part of the Interpreter's contract at the IRB.

4.0 What can the interpreter expect from the IRB?

You can expect the IRB to:

  • Treat you with respect.
  • Provide an environment free from bias and prejudice that allows you to provide high-quality   interpretation services.
  • Provide you with the necessary information and tools to prepare yourself for an IRB proceeding.

You can expect the IRB decision-maker to:

  • Provide you with a short briefing about the subject matter of the proceeding and give you an opportunity to confirm the language/dialect to be interpreted.
  • Introduce you and all of the other participants at the proceeding.
  • Clearly explain the proceeding process and your role in it.
  • Allow health breaks during proceedings to enable interpreters to maintain high-quality standards at all times.
  • Not ask you to do perform other tasks other than providing interpretation services.

5.0 General Information

5.1 Dress appropriately

Your attire should be appropriate for a formal hearing and in keeping with the atmosphere of the hearing room.

5.2 End of Proceedings

Before leaving, check with the Duty Desk to ensure that your services are no longer required and that your hours of work are properly recorded.

5.3 Provide updated Contact information

Always notify the Interpreter's Unit of any change of address, email and telephone number.

6.0 Other Participants at the proceedings

The following box contains a brief description of the roles of the various participants in an IRB proceeding.

Member (decision-maker)

  • The person who sits on the RPD, RAD, IAD or ID hearing and is responsible for making the decision, on the basis of the facts of the case and in accordance with the law.

Presiding member

  • The member appointed to chair an RPD, RAD, IAD or ID proceeding.
  • The presiding decision-maker (member) is responsible for procedural practice at the proceeding.

Coordinating Member

  • The coordinating member is a decision-maker responsible for member management and interlocutory decisions, including the applications submitted for change of date and time on the day of the proceeding

Subject of the proceedings

  • The "person concerned" whose case is being considered at the proceeding. This person is the main witness and may be the only one called. It is of the utmost importance that the person concerned understands what is being said and that others understand him/her.
  • RPD: The person who claims Convention refugee status may be referred to as "the claimant".
  • The person who makes an appeal to the RAD may be referred to as "the appellant". The Minister may also be the appellant.
  • The person who makes an appeal to the IAD may be referred to as "the appellant". The Minister may also be the appellant.
  • The person who appears before the Immigration Division for an admissibility hearing or a detention review is referred to as "the person concerned".

Hearings officer/Minister’s Counsel

  • The party who represents the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and/or the Minister of Public Safety in matters before the ID, the IAD, the RPD or the RAD.  Also known as the Minister’s counsel, the hearings officer is responsible for presenting the Minister’s case, call witnesses to the hearings before the divisions, examine and cross-examine witnesses, and may present documentary evidence.


  • The person who represents the person concerned at an RPD hearing, a RAD hearing, an IAD hearing, an immigration admissibility hearing or detention review. Counsel may be a lawyer, an immigration consultant, a friend or a relative or another person chosen by the person concerned to act on his/her behalf. Counsel may call witnesses, present evidence and make applications, objections and submissions.

Case management officer (CMO)/Case officer (CO)

  • An employee of the IRB who, while not necessarily present at the proceedings, is responsible for the administrative processing of cases.

Designated representative

  • The person designated by the member to act in the best interests of the person concerned when the person concerned is under the age of eighteen years or unable to appreciate the nature of the proceedings. The designated representative may make decisions that would otherwise be made by the person concerned.

Guardian (or parent)

  • A lawfully appointed person having the right and duty to make decisions for the person who is the subject of the proceedings where the person who is the subject of the proceedings is under the age of eighteen years or is mentally disadvantaged.


  • A person called upon to give evidence at the proceeding.


  • A person who is not taking part in the hearing but who may attend at the request of the person concerned, with permission. The presiding decision-maker may require an observer to leave if that person is likely to impede the proceedings. At RPD hearings, a representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has a right to attend and observe. IRB representatives may also attend as non-public observers.

7.0 Key Resources and Exercises/Tips

7.1 Legal framework

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) governs matters concerning immigration and refugee protection in Canada, including much of the work of the IRB. It came into force on June 28, 2002, replacing the previous Immigration Act. Since that time IRPA has been amended several times, the most recent changes made under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act (BRRA) and the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act (PCISA).

7.2 IRB glossaries

As the IRB has some specific vocabulary, a glossary has been developed and is available on the IRB website. In addition, the Annex of this handbook contains a list of commonly used terms.

Some words and expressions are commonly used throughout the IRB, while some apply only to only one Division. Some words may be used either in their ordinary meaning or in a more legal or technical meaning in the context of the process.

As you become familiar with the new terminology, please look at the list of commonly used terms in the glossary toward finding the equivalent in your language of interpretation. You may even wish to consult with other interpreters who speak your language of interpretation and share your list with them.

Another resource that you should become familiar with is the IRB Glossary of Terms Associated with SOGIE, which was developed in conjunction with the release of the Chairperson’s Guideline 9: Proceedings Before the IRB Involving Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE). Please use this glossary, also available on the IRB website, to ensure you are familiar with SOGIE-related terminology.

7.3 Exercises to improve your memory and sight translation skills

The following exercises are aimed at improving mental recall.

Exercise 1

Read a text. Repeat each sentence after having read it, without referring back to the text. It is easier if you can get someone else to read it to you.

Exercise 2

  1. Have someone read a sentence or two aloud to you from a newspaper or magazine at a normal speaking speed. (Have longer passages read to you as you improve.)
  2. Take notes.
  3. Repeat what you have just heard in the same language, using your notes and your memory.
  4. Analyze the results. Have you left anything out? Did you change anything? Attempt to find the reasons for any errors, so that you know what to watch for.

When you are comfortable doing exercises 1 and 2, try the exercise again, giving your interpretation in the other language.

It is worthwhile attending IRB hearings that are open to the public. You can practice noting the questions and the answers and then translating them in your head. This can help to improve your memory, allow you to pick up vocabulary that you will be required to translate and to assist in familiarizing yourself with IRB proceedings.

Do not practice a new note taking system while working in a proceeding. You should be comfortable with your system before attempting to make use of it while working.

Sight Translation

As an IRB interpreter, you may be asked to translate aloud a variety of documents for the tribunal. The most common of these documents are identification documents such as passports, drivers' licenses, national identification cards and birth certificates.  You may also be asked to sight translate handwritten personal letters, newspaper articles, police or medical reports and other legal documents. In order to give as accurate and precise a translation as possible and depending on the size and complexity of the document, it is better to request a brief amount of time to review the document ahead of time in order to prepare a rough written translation and/or solve some translation problems beforehand.

The following exercise will help you improve your sight translation skills.

Exercise 1

Translate a short text orally. Practice until you can do this at a normal speaking speed. You should concentrate on giving an intelligible and accurate rendering of the text and not be satisfied until you have reached the stage where no one realizes you are translating.

When practicing exercise 1, start with simple texts, using vocabulary with which you are familiar.

The best way to ensure that you will provide quality service as an interpreter is to practice. As an independent contractor you may not be called by the IRB on a regular basis, so it is up to you to maintain your skills by practicing them on your own. The IRB values the work and high standard of service that it has come to expect from its interpreters.

ANNEX A - Common terms used by the IRB