RPD virtual hearings – Guide for parties

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​This guide provides information specific to virtual refugee hearings held using Microsoft Teams video conferencing technology.​

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Virtual hearings​

A virtual hearing at the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) is a refugee protection hearing, or the hearing of a Minister’s application to cease or vacate refugee protection, where participants use the Microsoft Teams software to connect to the hearing. In most cases, claimants or protected persons use their own devices (e.g., laptop, desktop computer, or smartphone) to connect to the virtual hearing from a private place like their home or counsel’s office – this is called a “a remote virtual hearing”. Claimants or protected persons may also participate in virtual hearings from an IRB office if they lack the space and technology to do so elsewhere – this called a “on-site virtual hearing”.​

This guide provides information specific to using Microsoft Teams video conferencing technology to have a refugee hearing. For more general information about having a refugee hearing at the IRB, please see the RPD Claimant's Guide.

Scheduling the virtual hearing

What participants need for a virtual hearing​

In order to have a remote​ virtual hearing, participants should meet the following requirements:


Have access to a private and distraction-free location with good lighting and minimal background noise.


Have a laptop, desktop, tablet computer, or smartphone with a camera (webcam) and access to high speed internet sufficient to reliably videoconference.

 

Have access to a telephone throughout the hearing, in case there is a connection issue.

 

​Have a home/office technology setup that is sufficiently secure and private. Whether participants are participating in a public or private hearing, we strongly recommend they follow the Government of Canada’s “Cyber Safe” recommendations.

Alternatively, any claimants or protected persons who do not meet the above requirements but still want a virtual hearing may ask to connect to their hearing from an IRB office using an IRB computer.

Virtual hearings by default

As of January 18, 2021, the IRB has adopted a virtual-by-default approach to all hearings. For the foreseeable future, only virtual hearings will be held, with the exception of urgent and particularly sensitive cases.

For remote virtual hearings, participants will connect to the hearing from a private location using a personal device (e.g., laptop, desktop computer, tablet, or smartphone) instead of appearing in person for the hearing at an IRB office. Participants can access Microsoft Teams for free on their personal devices using the link provided by the Registry via email prior to the hearing date.

How to request that a hearing be scheduled to proceed from an IRB office

After a remote virtual hearing has been scheduled, any party that does not want to have a remote virtual hearing can apply for an on-site hearing at an IRB office for either:

  • an on-site virtual hearing (the IRB will make a computer available at an IRB office for the claimant to connect to the hearing), or
  • an in-person hearing (where all participants are physically present in the same hearing room).

In order for the Board to consider a request for an on-site hearing, the party should write to the regional Registry office without delay. The written request should address the following:

  • why a remote virtual hearing from a personal device is not suitable for the case;
  • whether the party requires an on-site hearing as an accommodation because of a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act (e.g. age, disability) or to ensure fair access to justice;
  • whether the party wishes to proceed with an on-site virtual hearing using a computer at an IRB office or an in-person hearing at an IRB office in the presence of other participants, and why; and
  • if any hearing participant other than a claimant wishes to come to the IRB office (e.g. an observer, counsel, or witness), please specify the other people applying to come.

The request should be made as per the RPD Rule 50 and should be received by the Division no later than 10 days before the date fixed for the next proceeding. The RPD will review each application on a case-by-case basis.

For more information, please read the IRB's announcement on remote-only hearings.

Participants may make a request to have a friend or family member attend the hearing as an observer – an observer does not actively participate in the hearing. According to Refugee Protection Division Rules, the Division must allow the attendance of an observer unless, in the opinion of the Division, the observer’s attendance will impede the proceeding.

Please note that this rule does not apply to members of the media. Media who wish to observe a hearing should contact media relations.

Connecting to the virtual hearing

How parties receive information about connecting to the virtual hearing​

The RPD holds virtual hearings using Microsoft Teams. In advance of the hearing, the RPD Registry will send a hearing invitation link by email to counsel, or directly to the claimant/protected person if they are self-represented. This link will allow participants and observers to connect to the hearing.

How a witness or permitted observer connects to the virtual hearing​

A witness or observer can participate in the virtual hearing via telephone or videoconferencing using Microsoft Teams. Normally, it is best to have the witness or observer connect to the hearing using Microsoft Teams. It is also possible to phone a witness or have a witness phone into the hearing to the phone number that will be associated with the hearing.

How to download Microsoft Teams

For a better user experience, it is recommended that participants and observers download the free Microsoft Teams application rather than use the web-based Microsoft Teams interface. For instructions on how to download the free Microsoft Teams mobile app follow Microsoft’s instructions.

 

Microsoft Teams is available in the language of your choice. To change the application’s language, click on your initials on the top right of the screen, select “Settings”, go to “General Settings”, scroll down, and select the language you want.

How to connect to the virtual hearing

  1. The IRB will provide participants and observers (if any) with Microsoft Teams connection details.
  2. Fifteen minutes before the start-time specified in the Notice to Appear, participants should click on the link: Join Microsoft Teams Meeting.
  3. They will be directed to the page on their default browser and will have some options:
    • Go to the Microsoft Teams application if participants have already installed it on their device.
    • Download the application if participants wish to join using the application
    • Join on the web instead if participants wish to connect through the web browser. Note that if their web browser is not supported this page will advise participants and will suggest an alternative. In either case, downloading the app is preferred.
  4. Type in their full name (first and last name) to join the meeting. Participants may also add a description of who they are (for example: counsel, appellant, witness, observer). Participants will have to give Microsoft Teams access to their camera and microphone; they must agree to this.
  5. Participants will be placed in a virtual lobby until an IRB employee accepts them into the hearing room. Note that if they join the meeting too early, they will be removed from the virtual lobby after 15 minutes. If this happens, participants can reconnect using the same link.

Participants are encouraged to watch a video on joining a Microsoft Teams meeting.

What the buttons in the Microsoft Teams software do​

During a virtual hearing using Microsoft Teams, participants will see the following options:

  • Click on the show participants icon to see a list of all the participants in the hearing
  • Click on the show conversation icon to see the chat window on the side of the screen
  • Click on the hand if you want to get the attention of the m​ember
  • Click on the ellipsis (…) for more options, including to check device settings, change the background, and turn off incoming video
  • Click on the camera icon to turn your video on and off
  • Click on the microphone icon to mute or unmute yourself
  • Click on the share icon to share all or part of your screen for other participants to see, for example if you want to show others a document
  • Click on the red phone icon to end the meeting when the hearing is finished
 

The web browser version of Microsoft​ Teams only displays the video of the person speaking. To prevent this, pin those you want to see by clicking on ‘show participants’, clicking on the ellipsis next to the participant you want to pin, and selecting ‘Pin’.

How to check that your audio and video are working in advance of the hearing date​

 

Test the link to the virtual hearing prior to the hearing to check that the microphone and webcam are being recogniz​ed by Microsoft Teams and see what your video will look like.

Participants should test the link that they receive to the virtual hearing in advance of the hearing date. While it is not necessary to download any particular software, for the best experience participants should download the Microsoft Teams app in advance of the hearing, and ensure they are familiar with the microphone, webcam, and speaker on their device.

In order to have a virtual hearing, one should have access to an internet connection that is stable and fast enough to facilitate reliable videoconferencing. Public networks, such as those in cafes, should not be used to access Microsoft Teams for the hearing. Normally, the speed of your network should be a minimum of 1.5 Mbps. You can test the speed of your network by running a speed test on Google.

Joining a virtual proceeding​

On the day of the virtual hearing, participants must join the proceeding using the link and instructions provided in the email from the Registry. Participants should join 15 minutes before the start time indicated in the Notice to Appear.

Poor connection quality​

The RPD recognizes that the quality of the call may vary throughout a hearing. This will be monitored by the member to ensure the hearing proceeds fairly. Participants should alert the member immediately if they experience any problems with the video or the audio quality during the hearing (e.g. if they are unable to clearly see or hear other participants, the connection begins to lag, they miss anything that is said, or they are disconnected during the hearing).

How virtual hearings are recorded​

 

Counsel, parties, observers, and witnesses are prohibited from recording the virtual hearing, including by taking photos or screenshots. All recording is to be done by the IRB.​

The IRB will record the audio and video of the hearing through the Microsoft Teams recording function. When ‘recording’ is turned on in Microsoft Teams, each participant will receive an alert and see a red dot that indicates that the video and audio are being saved.

Participating in the virtual hearing

Tips to avoid technical problems

 

Mute your microphone when not speaking for a significant time.

 

Use a device with a large screen. We do not recommend using a smartphone because of their small screens. If you do use a phone, do not hold it in your hand throughout the hearing, but instead position it in front of you in a stable position such as on a table.

 

Ensure you're in a quiet, distraction-free location, with good lighting, and minimal background noise. Use an appropriate camera angle and background for your video.

 

Use headphones that have a microphone to avoid echo and improve audio quality.​

 

Ensure devices are plugged in and charging during the hearing, as videoconferencing can drain the batteries of devices quickly.

 

​Consider using a phone as the audio connection to the hearing and the computer for video streaming only if your internet connection is slow. If the internet connection in your location is slow, participants can consider using a phone as the audio connection to the hearing and the computer for video streaming only.

 

​Ask others in your household to avoid using the internet during your hearing. If participants are sharing an internet connection with others in their household, the connection may be improved if they have sole use of the bandwidth during the hearing.

Privacy, confidentiality, and integrity of testimony

At the beginning of the hearing, the member will have the participants introduce themselves and confirm that they are alone in their locations. The member will remind all participants that the hearing is fully confidential. Participants should note that:

  • ​All parties should normally be visible on screen throughout the hearing. This includes claimants, protected persons, their counsel, and counsel for the Minister. If this will not be possible, the party should bring this to the member’s attention at the beginning of the hearing and the Member will be able to decide whether the hearing can continue virtually.
  • The member will ask observers, such as any IRB staff, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representatives, support persons, or family members, to introduce themselves on the record, present themselves in front of the camera, and confirm that they will not participate in the hearing by any means.
  • ​Claimants should not read from their Basis of Claim (BOC) form or from their notes during the hearing without obtaining permission from the member.
  • Witnesses must not communicate with anyone (other than their counsel) about their evidence during the hearing and during any breaks.
  • ​Witnesses should ensure that the interpreter has enough time to fully interpret their responses to questions. To do this, witnesses should pause often to let the interpreter translate.
  • Claimants, protected persons, and witnesses should not use their cell phones during the hearing if they are not using the Microsoft Teams app on their phones to connect to the virtual hearing. Claimants and protected persons may use their cell phone to communicate with their counsel at other times, for example during a break.

Security and virtual proceedings​

The Microsoft Teams platform runs on a secured Government of Canada network. IRB registry staff and the member who decides the case will connect to the hearing on this secured network. Any representatives of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness or the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship who participate in a hearing will also connect to the hearing using a Government of Canada device connected to this network. This secured network meets all necessary Government of Canada privacy and confidentiality requirements.

Learn more about Security and Microsoft Teams.

IRB interpreters will connect to the hearing using their own personal device. IRB interpreters must maintain the privacy of all information and follow best practices for ensuring security and privacy. All IRB interpreters who participate in a virtual hearing will ensure that their device complies with the Government of Canada’s “Cyber Safe” recommendations.

Other participants will normally connect to the virtual hearing using their own personal computers or phones. The IRB has no control over the security of such devices. Should there be a security breach through a participant’s personal device, there is a risk that a third party could obtain information being shared over the i​nternet during the hearing. To reduce the chance of information being disclosed, participants should take reasonable precautions, including ensuring that the electronic device they use for the hearing complies with the Government of Canada’s Get Cyber Safe recommendations.

Find Government of Canada recommendations to secure your devices.

Audio and video quality during the virtual hearing

At the beginning of the hearing, the member will confirm that the quality of the audio and video is adequate. Participants should alert the member immediately if they experience any problems with video or audio quality during the hearing. Participants can do this by:

  • using the Chat or Raise hand features within Microsoft Teams
  • contacting their counsel (if they have counsel)
  • contacting the Registry Officer

If the issue persists and participants are disconnected from the call, they should:

  • try reconnecting by clicking on the hearing invitation link again
  • try connecting from another device, such as a smartphone
  • call in using the telephone option in the email from the IRB with the hearing invitation link
  • call the IRB at the phone number provided by the Registry staff during check-in or the phone number on the Notice to Appear.

The member may also try to call participants at the phone number provided if a connection issue arises.

If a participant cannot rejoin the hearing after attempting the above steps, they should inform their counsel or the Registry Officer. The hearing will be paused until they can reconnect.

Note: Observers should not interrupt the member if they experience connection or audio issues.

How counsel and claimants can have private conversations during hearing breaks​

If claimants have counsel, they may need to communicate with each other privately during the hearing. One example of how this can be done is by phoning each other during a break. To ensure the phone conversation is private, participants should be sure to mute themselves and turn off the video camera in Microsoft Teams. If participants are accessing the hearing from an IRB office, the microphone connected to the computer has an off switch that can be pressed to ensure that the conversation is private.

How to show the member a document during the hearing​

Everyone, including claimants and counsel, should have access to a complete and identical set of page numbered documents during the hearing. Participants can also share their screens during the hearing to show others a digital document. For example, during submissions, counsel may wish to share their screen to point the member to a part of a case they are looking at. Participants can do this using the share icon.

How counsel can get a Confirmation of Appearance form​

For counsel in Quebec who require it, you can ask the Registry staff who set up the Microsoft Teams connection to provide you with a Confirmation of Appearance form following the hearing. If requested, Registry staff will send you a Confirmation of Appearance by fax or through the IRB portal, if you are registered, about 24 hours after the hearing.

If you did not request a Confirmation of Appearance before the hearing started, please submit a written request to the RPD Registry by fax (514-283-0164), by epost Connect, or by email. Please note that requests submitted via email must be in the form of a PDF attachment. The subject line of the email must state the RPD file number, the date of the hearing, and the type of request (e.g., Confirmation of Appearance form). In your written request, please specify the duration of the hearing.

Getting help

If you have any questions, please contact the IRB Registry at the phone numbers listed on the IRB’s contact information web page. Faxes and emails should be sent to the fax number and email address included in the Notice to Appear for a virtual hearing for the case.​​​



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