One of the purposes of this blog is to provide a resource for those appearing before the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board. Practicing in this area of law can be challenging. These challenges include: steep learning curves in learning country conditions; language barriers between counsel and client; clients suffering from psychological impediments; and merely appearing before an administrative decision maker facing pressure to emphasize expediency (often at the cost of fairness). As with many other administrative processes in Canada, there is a laudable accessibility to resources for both counsel and claimant on the IRB website.
Canada is signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and incorporated the obligations of the Convention into Canadian law by virtue of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. It should be noted that Canada's refugee definition includes a "person in need of protection" which is broader than the definition of a Convention Refugee.
In my opinion, the starting point for any counsel in this field is the Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.
While dated, I still refer to Professor Hathaway's text The Law of Refugee Status. (Hathaway now directs the Refugee Caselaw site). Another great resource is the UNHCR Refworld site. When I started, I sought out assistance from more experienced immigration practitioners. Their advice was invaluable. I would suggest that younger or junior counsel do the same. Finally, Lorne Waldman's text, Canadian Immigration & Refugee Law Practice is almost required for any counsel wishing to practice in this area.
The Convention is silent as to the exact mechanics of the refugee adjudication to be implemented by signatory states. Canada's refugee adjudication system was largely created by way of a response to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Singh v. Canada (Minister of Employment & Immigration)  1 S.C.R. 177. In summary, the decision indicated that Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires an oral hearing for an individual claiming refugee protection in Canada.
The Immigration and Refugee Board was born. Unfortunately, the Board became a dumping ground for cronies and allies of the political party in power at the time. Given the import of its decisions and the dire consequences for a "false negative" the Board engaged in "professionalization". Training was soon required (many of the appointees did not have a legal background). Pressure built to have a merit based appointment process. The current application process is the most merit based in the history of the Board.
In Canada, the current refugee adjudication system is facing changes as outlined in the euphemistically titled Balanced Refugee Reform Act. At present, a refugee claim is made to a CIC officer who determines eligibility under the IRPA. Eligibility (or, ineligibility) is canvassed at section 101 of the IRPA. Among those that are ineligible are those who have already received refugee protection in Canada, those that have previously had their refugee claims rejected.
The claim, if eligible, is referred to the IRB. The claimant is required to provide a Personal Information Form and the claim is scheduled for a hearing after providing an opportunity for disclosure by the claimant. The Board provides country condition and can do specific information requests. The hearing is governed by general administrative principles which include "the right to be heard". A quasi-judicial proceeding, the hearing is more informal than court with relaxed rules for evidence (no blanket prohibition on hearsay for example).