On December 15, 2012, the system for determining refugee claims made in Canada underwent significant changes as a result of the coming into force of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, the latter of which amends both the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.
Overview of the changes
- The introduction of Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs)
- Tighter time limits (anticipated in the regulations):
- 30 days from referral to hearing for Designated Country of Origin (DCO) claims made inland
- 45 days from referral to hearing for Designated Country of Origin (DCO) claims made at a port of entry
- 60 days from referral to hearing for all other claims
- Replacement of the current Personal Information Form with the Basis of Claim form.
Impacts of those changes
- We are developing a new Basis of Claim (BoC) form.
- We are developing a claimant's guide and multi-lingual instructions to further inform refugee claimants of their rights and obligations under this new legislation.
- New procedures governing postponements, adjournments and abandonments will be set out in the RPD Rules.
- It is expected that the new regulations on time limits will continue to stipulate that if hearings cannot be held within the timeframes for reasons of fairness and natural justice or because of a pending investigation or inquiry, the hearing must be held as soon as feasible afterwards.
Overall, the new, shorter time limits will require significant changes to the way the IRB processes refugee claims.
Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA)
It is anticipated that the transfer of the PRRA function from CIC to the IRB will take place two years after Coming into Force of the new system. At that time, the IRB will take responsibility over all PRRA cases except for those cases involving serious criminality, which will remain with CIC.
IRB preparations for Coming into Force
The IRB has been working on a series of measures to meet the new time limits and requirements stemming from the Acts.
The measures include:
- Revising RPD rules;
- Revising approaches to scheduling, rescheduling, postponements and adjournments, while still ensuring compliance with the requirements of natural justice and fairness;
- Developing and testing new registry procedures to support shorter time limits;
- Renewing the policy suite to reflect the changing system and vision for the new RPD;
- Adapting IT systems and physical space; and
- Altering existing training material and developing new training material to align with the new Act.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How is the Board expecting to complete a hearing in a matter of weeks when it now takes several months?
The IRB is putting a number of elements in place, such as adjudicative teams that will have members and registry staff co-located and working together, to expedite proceedings. This is just one example of steps we are taking to meet the new time limits and the policy intent of the legislation.
The IRB will strive to meet the required time limits without compromising fairness and natural justice. We will be setting clear expectations for our members and staff. We will also be setting clear expectations for the counsel community. For example, we expect them to be ready to proceed on the scheduled hearing date unless fairness and natural justice require otherwise. Rendering oral decisions will also considerably expedite proceedings.
Ultimately, the IRB cannot take sole responsibility for the success of the new system. The counsel community, legal aid organizations and other non-governmental organizations will also play a critical role in ensuring that the process runs smoothly and within the prescribed time limits. The IRB is taking every opportunity to meet and engage with its stakeholders so that they can fully take stock of the changes and align their practices accordingly.
Will there still be adjournments and postponements in the new system?
Yes, but these will only be granted where natural justice and fairness require it.
What is the IRB doing to assist unrepresented claimants?
The IRB is making every effort to ensure that it will be ready to meet the new time limits and will also provide tools and information that are accessible and easily understood to help unrepresented claimants do the same. Considerable effort will also be taken to ensure that clear information on claimants' rights and obligations are made available in various formats at the earliest possible opportunity. The IRB has a very good history of working with unrepresented claimants.
IRB staff are working diligently to ensure that the new Basis of Claim form, which replaces the information-gathering interview proposed in the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, will be easily understood by claimants. We are also revising our RPD Claimant kit, which will be available to claimants at the Port of Entry or inland office, so it is more accessible, informative and helpful. We will also provide basic instructions pertaining to important dates in multiple languages (about 10, covering approximately 80 percent of claimants).
How will you address the needs of vulnerable persons in the new system?
The IRB is keenly aware of and committed to addressing the important needs of vulnerable persons. We already have a number of different tools to help us do this, including the Chairperson's Guideline 8. The guideline encourages flexibility and sensitivity when dealing with vulnerable persons. With regards to scheduling, we currently ensure that vulnerable persons are prioritized to reduce the uncertainty and anxiety that delays may cause. The needs and concerns of vulnerable persons are also an important part of member training, which puts great emphasis on recognizing and identifying vulnerable persons early on.
While these existing tools have been very helpful, we are also taking great care to see how we can further address the needs of vulnerable persons in the new documents, forms, policies and procedures that we are developing for refugee reform. The new legislative framework mandates strict time limits for the convening of hearings as well as for filing of appeals. But they also allow for the ability to grant extensions and or postponements for reasons of fairness and natural justice.
The first and most important step in this proposed new system will be ensuring that claimants, particularly those who are unrepresented, are aware of the right to request an accommodation if their ability to present their case before the IRB is severely impaired. As always, the decision maker will then determine to what extent procedural accommodations are necessary on a case by case basis. To that end, we are exploring ways to provide information on vulnerable persons that is clear and readily available.