In-Person Conferences: Will You Show Up?

I have been told the CBA Immigration section is the most active of all the sections within the CBA. For years, the highlight for this section has been the CBA Immigration Law Conference where we regularly see 400 to 500 practitioners descent into a Canadian city to discuss recent policy & program updates from IRCC & CBSA. We review significant caselaw and hear from the lawyers who argued those cases, including lawyers from the Department of Justice who offer their perspective, and we opine (sometimes with vigor) on all the changes we would like adopted. I have been attending these annual conferences since 2007. When I first connect with a law student or a lawyer who is thinking of practicing immigration & refugee law, one of my first pieces of advice is to join the section and attend the conference.

Our last in-person conference was held in Winnipeg during the weekend of 30 May 2019. It was an honour to host my colleagues and show them some of our amazing culinary treasures in the city. Then-Minister Hussen made significant announcements to many programs during the conference, including headline-grabbing news related to 117/9/d. Those changes have helped hundreds of families. Then, as we are acutely aware, the world changed. The conference scheduled for Victoria in 2020 was canceled. We moved to online presentations via Zoom for 2020 and 2021.

From my experience, there were two (2) main benefits to having CPD programming online for this conference:

  1. Fridays – In beforetimes, the conference was spread over a long weekend, with three (3) days packed with sessions. With the online conference format, the three (3) days were spread over three (3) weeks with the programming done on subsequent Fridays. Personally, I find Fridays are often the most relaxed workday and I often schedule maintenance items on Friday afternoons or I keep it open for emergencies. The related benefit is that we have three (3) weeks to process the information rather than three (3) days. For an old(er) brain, I have found it easier to absorb the information over the longer period of time.
  2. Attendence – In beforetimes, the conference would generally have three (3) programs running concurrently. I would plan out my conference in advance and select the sessions that were most important. Sometimes I would find a friend to attend a session and share notes afterward. In contrast, with the online conference, we can attend all the sessions.

Noel Semple has recently published a column in this space comparing online hearings versus in-person hearings. Many of his points relate to comparing online conferences versus in-person conferences as well. (Adversarial? Hmmm… perhaps. In the lore of past conferences, we have had vigorous debates interpreting key decisions. Kanthasamy comes to mind and, for the record, I agree with Ron Poulton’s analysis during the CBA Immigration conference in 2016.)

The CBA Immigration section opted for a mixed/ hybrid format that was kicked off on 3 JUNE 2022 in Vancouver. For the hybrid model, we had the choice of attending in-person or online. I opted to fly from Winnipeg to Vancouver and attend in person. It was wonderful to see colleagues in-person again, and we had a lovely round table discussion at the end. Some things simply need to be said in-person.

With the in-person conference, we had other issues, of course. I believe around 35 immigration lawyers RSVPed for the in-person event; however, only ~15 ended up actually being there. There were issues with flights and I heard that a lawyer’s family member tested positive with COVID-19. Faskens was a perfect host and the facilities were top notch.

Today is Day 3 for the conference and it will start with a run through Old Montreal. Alas, I will not be able to join. Hopefully many of my colleagues are able to take advantage of the in-person programming.

The CBA Administrative Law Section recently announced their conference scheduled for November 2022 will return in-person in Ottawa. It seems they have completely abandoned online options.

Personally, I see advantages to both the in-person and online programs. Spending time with my colleagues in Vancouver in-person was wonderful and we were able to catch up and chat about so many things that feel awkward online. At the same time, the online programs offer flexibility and allow for busy professionals to participate without leaving their desk or having to deal with all the travel arrangements.

For this post, I will not delve into how all the courts, tribunals and government departments have been dealing with this transition. That may be for another post. Needless to say, courts and tribunals also seem to be in a state of flux. Thus far, the divisions of the IRB continue to operate with videoconferencing or teleconference. I have heard from my colleagues who practice Family Law that contested motions, family and civil will continue to be heard via teleconference in Manitoba, unless a request is made at least 10 days in advance. Per the 9 JUNE 2022 practice direction, it seems Bankruptcy dockets will return to in-person service starting in Sept 2022.

I remember at the beginning of this pandemic, I spoke with a Registrar at the Supreme Court of Canada. We were talking about how difficult it had been for the SCC to adapt to technological changes for many years. They had resisted and resisted. I remember having a conversation in 2016 regarding using online tools and I was told, at that time, it would require Parliament to change the Rules. Then, suddenly, the pandemic provided sufficient motivation. I think we can all agree those changes have been positive.

In comparison, IRCC has been extremely slow to adopt these technologies. As I testified to CIMM in 2020, there are many online solutions which could benefit both applicants and Officers. The lack of efficiency may have contributed to the backlog and delays in processing. 

It will be interesting to see how service providers adapt to these changing times. Will they continue to use the robust online video conferencing services or will they simply go back to how things were done during the beforetimes? We will see…

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