How a hearing room is set up can often feel formal, like a courtroom. The CER tries to make it as welcoming an environment as possible by supporting and accommodating participants. For example, setting hearing times in the evening so people can participate after work, offering information sessions before the start of a hearing to help people understand the process, and giving tours of the hearing room before the hearing begins.
The decision on where to hold the oral portion of a hearing is made by each panel and the locations may vary. Many are held in the CER Hearing Room in Calgary, while people may attend or participate from another location using technology. Sometimes the hearing may take place in a community near those who are participating. The hearing room might be in a hotel conference room or a community hall. Regardless of the location, we expect all people attending the hearing to behave in a courteous manner.
The below diagram shows the people who typically participate in a hearing. Generally, the panel members sit at the front facing the people in the room, with the company and intervenors facing the Commissioners. Depending on the size of the hearing, the number of participants, and the location of the hearing, there may also be room for people to observe the hearing.
Click on the diagram below to learn more about the people who typically participate in a hearing.
CER hearings are usually conducted by a panel of CER Commissioners.
Commissioners are appointed by the Governor in Council (GIC), the Governor General acting on advice from the Federal Cabinet. Commissioners have knowledge or expertise in a variety of areas, such as economics, engineering, environment, finance, law, public participation, safety, and science.
Panel members are similar to judges. They must read and listen to all the evidence that is filed on the project, and may ask questions of the applicant and other participants. They also make the recommendation to GIC or a final decision on whether to approve or deny an application.
The company (often referred to as the applicant or the proponent) files an application with the CER requesting permission to proceed with a project. The company must wait until the proposed project has been thoroughly reviewed and approved before beginning work. The application may also be denied.
During a hearing, the company will answer questions from the panel and intervenors. It will also prepare and present evidence in support of its proposed project.
Intervenors are people who are interested in the proposed project and who are registered to participate. They may present evidence in support of or against the project. They may ask questions of the company and other intervenors, and provide feedback on draft conditions, but also must answer questions asked of them. Intervenors typically participate actively and frequently throughout the hearing process.
CER Staff have different roles during a hearing.
- CER lawyers provide advice to the panel on legal matters, and question witnesses to gather the information the Commissioners need to make a recommendation or decision. Our lawyers do not provide legal advice or assistance to any participants.
- Process advisors help the public and participants understand the hearing process and how to participate effectively. They provide information sessions or workshops to explain the process, answer questions on by telephone or email, and might attend the oral portion of the hearing.
- Regulatory officers record all exhibits, give the oaths to witnesses, and schedule the translation.
- Other CER staff are there to advise the panel on issues relating to engineering, geology, the environment, jurisdiction, finance, or socio-economic matters.
Court reporters sit near the Commissioners and capture every word that is said during the hearing. Transcripts are prepared at the end of each day and are available to anyone to read by the following day. The transcripts are available on the CER website and in the CER Library. Additional copies may be purchased from the court reporters if arranged beforehand.
Some hearings may involve interpreters. These people make the hearing available in both English and French, depending on the needs of participants. When the hearing is in both languages, headsets will be available in the hearing room so you can listen in the official language of your choice. We also broadcast the hearing in both languages through our website.
Witnesses are people who can best answer questions on the evidence you have filed. It could be you, a professional expert, or a layperson. When deciding who would be a good witness for you, remember they must be able to confirm that the evidence was either prepared by them or under their direction and control. So, if you file a report prepared by someone else, that person should be available to answer questions about it. You should be prepared to have a witness (you or someone else) available to answer questions on all the evidence you have filed. If a relevant question is asked about your evidence that you or your witness cannot answer, that evidence may be given less weight by the panel during its deliberations.
The company will normally have several witnesses or panels of witnesses to answer questions related to any issue in its application.
Other hearing terms you may want to know
During cross-examination, some hearing participants may ask witnesses questions about their evidence.
If you are an intervenor, you may cross-examine parties in the hearing (and their witnesses) who take an opposing position to you and have filed evidence. You must be available to ask your questions when those parties and witnesses. Once the time for questioning a witness or party has passed and they’ve been allowed to leave (also known as “being excused”), you have missed your chance to ask questions.
When planning your questions for cross-examination, make sure your questions are related to the witness’ area of expertise or to the evidence they have prepared. It is not necessary to ask questions that have already been asked by another intervenor unless you are not satisfied with the response and need more information.
Motions are formal requests that require a decision by the panel of Commissioners. Examples of motions include asking a hearing participant for:
- a response to a question they’ve refused to answer
- a more complete response to a written question,
- a change in the procedure
- an extension to a deadline
To make a motion, written copies of it, along with any supporting documents, must be provided to the CER, the company, and other intervenors. The Commission will determine a procedure to address these requests and usually deal with the matter in writing if the motion is made before the oral portion of the hearing. Some motions are made orally during the oral portion, and the Commission may make a decision (also known as a ruling) immediately or soon after; complex motions may require more time. The Commission may ask for comments on motions before giving its ruling.
The process advisor for your hearing can provide you with a template to use when preparing a motion.
Objections during the oral hearing
You might make an objection if you disagree with the way another person is cross-examining a witness or how something is being done. For example, you might object to the relevance or appropriateness of questions asked during cross-examination, or when someone tries to introduce new evidence at a time when they’re not allowed. The Commission will hear from the parties involved and decide whether to allow the objection.
After cross-examination and any reply evidence is complete, final argument begins. Final argument involves stating your position on the project and what you think the Commission should decide or recommend. You can only use the evidence on the record to support your position and may not present new evidence. The Commission will indicate the process for final argument in a “procedural update”, such as whether final argument will be written or oral, if there are time limits on oral argument, and where argument will take place.
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