Rule 24 of the Board's Rules of Practice states that hearings will be open to the public unless the Member believes that there is sufficient reason to deny public access. Hearings closed to the public are called in camera hearings.
The right of the public to attend a hearing is based on the principle that the public is entitled to access to tribunals that decide disputes in a quasi-judicial proceeding. Parties and members of the public should be aware that Board hearings are open to the public, subject to the provisions for a closed hearing set out in section 9 of the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (SPPA). Section 9 provides that a hearing shall be open to the public except where:
Factors that the Board may consider under the SPPA include:
In some cases, the Board will hold an electronic hearing, usually by telephone or video conference. The SPPA requires that an electronic hearing be open to the public unless the Board is of the opinion that it is either not practical to hold a hearing that is open to the public, or one of the criteria for closing the hearing applies to the application.
There are a number of practical reasons why electronic hearings conducted by the Board may not be open to the public. For example, the hearing room may not be large enough to accommodate the public as well as the parties, their witnesses and the Member. Further information regarding electronic hearings can be found in Rule 21 of the Board's Rules of Practice.
Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the "Charter") provides that freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, is a fundamental freedom. Having regard to the Charter, where the Board considers a request to hold the hearing in camera, members of the media who are present at the hearing should be given the opportunity to make submissions regarding whether the hearing should be closed. Where the media opposes a request to close the hearing, the Board may:
It is appropriate for a Member to hear a request for an in camera hearing as a preliminary motion. In deciding whether to restrict access to the hearing, the Member may hear evidence and submissions from the parties, their representatives and any other interested person (such as a member of the media) in a hearing room closed to the public. On the basis of the evidence and submissions, the Member will decide if the application itself will proceed as a hearing open to the public or in camera.
If the Member decides to hold the hearing in camera, access to the hearing will be limited to the parties and their representatives. Witnesses may be excluded in any hearing, whether open or in camera, by an order excluding a witness until the witness has given evidence. In some circumstances the hearing will be closed for only that portion in which the sensitive information is disclosed.
In order to avoid or reduce inconvenience to other parties and members of the public, a Board Member may deal with the request at of the end of the hearing block. Alternatively, a Member may proceed with a party's motion to close the hearing in the absence of the public, and, if the Member decides that the hearing itself should be closed, the Member may direct that hearing to be held down to the end of the hearing block, or, may adjourn it to another day.
Where a hearing is closed to the public, the Member will record the hearing separately from the other hearings in a hearing block.