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9.4.2009 South Africa Objects to a White Citizen’s Refugee Status in Canada


OTTAWA — The South African government is protesting a Canadian decision granting refugee status to a white South African who said he was attacked by blacks because of his race.

A tribunal of the Immigration and Refugee Board ruled that the South African, Brandon Huntley, could remain in Canada because he had provided “clear and convincing proof of the state’s inability or unwillingness to protect him,” according to a copy of the ruling, dated Aug. 27, provided by Mr. Huntley’s lawyer.

The chairman of the tribunal, William Davis, added in the written decision provided by the lawyer, “I find that the claimant would stand out like a ‘sore thumb’ due to his color in any part of the country.”

While Canada does not release details of its refugee claim decisions, this appears to be the first time a white South African has been granted protection for race-related reasons, according to Mr. Huntley’s lawyer, Russell L. Kaplan.

In making his claim, Mr. Huntley said he had been the victim of six or seven attacks, including three stabbings, by black South Africans when he lived in Mowbray, a suburb of Cape Town. He did not, however, tell the police that he had been attacked, saying he distrusted them.

The confidential decision was given to Mr. Huntley last Thursday. Mr. Kaplan has since provided portions of the document to news organizations, and it has received extensive attention in South Africa.

Anesh Maistry, the leader of the political section at the South African embassy in Ottawa, said his government questioned the truthfulness of Mr. Huntley’s claims, especially since he did not lodge complaints at the time he said the attacks had taken place.

“This is a smack in the face of a country that’s trying to move ahead with racial issues,” Mr. Maistry said Wednesday. “It’s just really preposterous.”

The embassy formally complained about the decision to Canada on Tuesday after learning about it through an article in The Ottawa Sun over the weekend. But Mr. Maistry said the embassy had been told that the Canadian government did not interfere with independent quasi-judicial bodies.

“The tribunal’s decisions are independent from the views of the Canadian government,” Laura Markle, a spokeswoman for Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department, wrote by e-mail. “Canada recognizes the achievements of the government of South Africa in promoting a tolerant, multiracial society,” she added.

A spokeswoman for Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Department, Danielle Norris, said that lawyers there were reviewing the decision. Hours earlier, a deputy foreign affairs minister for South Africa, Sue van der Merwe, told Parliament that the government would urge Canada to carry out a review, Reuters said.

Mr. Huntley, who lives in Ottawa, first came to Canada on a six-month visa in 2004 to work as a carnival attendant. He returned in 2005 on a one-year visa and stayed for a second year illegally. He went back to South Africa, then entered Canada a third time, and filed his refugee claim in April 2008.