TORONTO — A white man from South Africa has been given refugee status in Canada after claiming persecution, his lawyer said, angering many in his home country where race remains a highly sensitive issue.
A Canadian immigration board panel issued its ruling late last week in the case involving Brandon Carl Huntley, according to his lawyer, Russell Kaplan.
Kaplan said Tuesday it's likely the first time a white South African has been granted refugee status in Canada claiming persecution from black South Africans.
The Immigration and Refugee Board refused to comment on the case or to release the decision. Board spokesman Stephane Malepart said he is barred from commenting on any individual case by privacy provisions.
Malepart said the board is an independent tribunal that operates at arms' length from the Canadian government.
Huntley argued that whites are targeted by black criminals in South Africa and that the government does nothing to protect them. He claimed he was attacked seven times during attempted robberies and muggings.
Kaplan, a South African native who moved to Canada 20 years, said tribunal panel chair William Davis ruled that Huntley would stand out like a "sore thumb" due to his color in any part of South Africa and that Kaplan's fears of persecution are justified based on the evidence he submitted.
In his its written decision, Davis said "I find that the claimant was a victim because of his race (white South African) rather than a victim of criminality."
It also said that Huntley "has presented clear and convincing proof of the state's inability or unwillingness to protect him."
The news of the Canadian panel's ruling made headlines and was a topic for call-in radio programs in South Africa Tuesday.
Ronnie Mamoepa, spokesman for South Africa's immigration ministry, said Huntley's "claims were aimed at tarnishing the good name of black and white South Africans ... and were racially motivated."
He also said that "it would have been courteous for the Canadian government to allow the South African government to respond to these claims."
The governing African National Congress said the government is working hard to curb crime.
ANC spokesman Brian Sokutu added, "We find the claim by Huntley to have been attacked seven times by Africans due his skin color without any police intervention sensational and alarming."
He added: "Canada's reasoning for granting Huntley a refugee status can only serve to perpetuate racism."
In an editorial Tuesday, the Johannesburg daily The Times said: "News that Canada has granted a white South African refugee status because his life is in danger at the hands of his black countrymen is shocking and saddening. It says more about Canadian perceptions than South African reality."
But AfriForum, a white lobby, has asked Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the South African immigration minister, to look into the cause of white emigration and to take seriously the claim by Huntley's lawyer that he "presented a clear and convincing proof of the state's inability or unwillingness to protect him."
Huntley made a refugee claim in 2008 after staying in Canada illegally for a year with a work permit.
Kaplan, the attorney, said his sister, Laura Kaplan, testified about being threatened by armed black South Africans.
Associated Press writer Nkemeleng Nkosi contributed to this story from Johannesburg.