After a series of restrictive policies specifically directed at various racial and ethnic groups, the Canadian government submitted to pressure to remove the overtly racist sections from the newest version of the laws on immigration in the 1970s. They also formalized the process for refugee claims although it wasn’t until the 1980s that oral hearings were created under the federal Immigration and Refugee Board. It seems the system was not well funded and became increasingly backlogged with hearings and processing of applications. A number of restrictive immigration bills which included provisions for security certificates were passed during the late 1980s and early 1990s including the Refugee Deterrents and Detention Bill. What a name. This Bill came about after an emergency recall of Parliament due to the arrival of a group of Sikhs claiming refugee status in Nova Scotia (?!?!?!?!). The immigration and refugee system continued to be very restrictive and slow moving, but the actual security certificate provision was rarely used. In 1984, the security aspects of this process were transferred from the RCMP to the control of CSIS (Canadian Council for Refugees, 1999).
The most well known account of the 1980s is that of Salvadoran journalist Victor Regalado, who was detained on a security certificate in 1982. The provision at the time said “that ‘inadmissible persons’ can include those ‘who there are reasonable grounds to believe will, while in Canada, engage in or instigate the subversion by force of any government.’” (The Globe and Mail: Jan 30, 1987. pg. A.3)
After a public outcry, Mr. Regalado was released on strict conditions but was eventually sentenced to deportation in 1987. He was allowed to stay in Canada while they found a country that would accept him, since the federal government apparently accepted that he could not be deported to his country of origin. The certificate was issued by Federal Solicitor-General Robert Kaplan and Immigration Minister Lloyd Axworthy, who could not be questioned about it in Court, because any answers would be a violation of the Immigration Act! The courts did not (and do not) have the right to examine the certificates, the information relied upon, or the Ministers who issued them. The federal court upheld the process, saying that the Ministers were not obligated to disclose any information pertaining to the detention, deportation, or risks posed by Mr. Regalado.
An article in the Gazette (Apr 28, 1987. pg. A.5) a couple months afterward is quite telling – “Despite public "misapprehension" about newcomers to Canada, junior Immigration Minister Gerry Weiner said yesterday he wants to see 1984's immigration level doubled before the end of the Conservative government's current mandate.” It later mentions “While Canadians are neither "bigots, nor xenophobic," there are fears expressed in public opinion polls that immigrants grab jobs while unemployment is still high.” Much of the literature at the time seems focused on ‘false’ refugee claims and “abuses of the system,” as well as getting the ‘right’ kinds of immigrants. These restrictive policies were being revised repeatedly by conservative governments in the context of an economic recession and frustrations being funneled towards certain newcomers to the country.
There were several detentions of Iraqi citizens on security certificates in 1991. The certificates seem to be used against blanket groups deemed risky, without much focus on the particular risks individuals present. And remember, they can never be used against a citizen of Canada, only people without Canadian citizenship status. The development of the certificates in the broader context of refugee and immigration policies is clearly mired in racist, xenophobic, and protectionist ideologies.