As a result of the evolving public health conditions and consistent with prioritizing the health and safety of IRB employees and those appearing before the Board, the IRB is adopting a remote-only hearings model, with only urgent and particularly sensitive cases considered for in-person hearings on a case by case basis, as of Monday, January 18, 2021.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the IRB has been guided by the dual objectives of protecting the health and safety of employees and those appearing before the Board, while also ensuring meaningful access to justice.
To ensure our offices were safe, the Board implemented strict health protocols, which were reviewed by the Public Health Agency of Canada. These measures included redesigning our workplace to ensure physical distancing measures were in place, installing plexiglass, introducing mask policies, and increasing sanitization and ventilation standards. These measures continued to be reviewed and adjusted as needed in order to align with evolving health guidance.
The Board also adapted its operations to respond to the pandemic. We enabled a significant part of our workforce to work remotely by adopting new digital tools, which allowed us to reduce occupancy by 75% across our buildings. We also implemented new operational practices, including electronic exchange of information, and, most significantly, we piloted and then scaled up remote hearings across all Divisions, leading to the majority of hearings now being scheduled remotely.
To date, there has been no evidence of transmission of COVID-19 within any of the IRB’s offices. However, in light of the increase in cases across Canada, as well as new and potentially more infectious strains, and in the interest of service continuity and avoiding potential short-term shut downs, we have decided to further evolve the IRB’s adjudicative operating model. As of Monday, January 18, 2021 and for the foreseeable future, only remote hearings will be held, with only urgent and particularly sensitive cases considered for in-person hearings on a case by case basis. This will help further minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19 on IRB premises.
As a further safety measure, the IRB will not be accepting documents in person for any division during this time. Documents must be submitted to the IRB electronically using MyCase portal, email (where applicable) or through Canada Post epost Connect. Fax and regular mail/courier will continue to be accepted but should only be used when electronic options are not available.
This operating model is a natural evolution of steps taken by the Board over the past few months, and prioritizes the health and safety of IRB employees and those appearing before the Board, while still offering access to justice to the extent possible. When circumstances change such that we are once again offering in-person hearings, we will prioritize those hearings so that those who were not able to participate remotely are given timely access.
We will continue to monitor this situation and keep you apprised of any changes. For planning purposes, we expect this approach to last until early September, which is when we expect community inoculation rates to be at a rate where it is safe to resume in-person hearings. We will revisit the approach on or before July 5, 2021, to ensure that it still aligns with health conditions across the IRB regions and to determine if any adjustments need to be made to our planning assumptions.
If you have an in-person hearing scheduled, the IRB will be in contact with you to discuss next steps.
Thank you for your co-operation and understanding as we navigate these exceptional times.