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Canada appeals to overturn South African refugee ruling

  • Story Highlights
  • Brandon Huntley says he faced racial violence and discrimination in South Africa
  • Canadian immigration board recently granted refugee status to Huntley
  • South African government blasted decision as racist
  • Canadian government asks courts to overturn independent board's decision
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(CNN) -- The Canadian government hopes to overturn a decision granting refugee status to a white South African who says he would face persecution at home, a spokesman for Canada's immigration minister said Friday.

The Immigration and Refugee Board recently granted refugee status to Brandon Huntley, 31, a South African native who has been living illegally in Canada.

The board decided to let him live and work legally in Canada after Huntley argued he had been the victim of racial violence and discrimination in South Africa. The board operates independently of the Canadian government.

The ruling African National Congress in South Africa blasted the decision as racist and said it would "only serve to perpetuate racism." Video Watch how the South African government has condemned the ruling »

Now the Canadian government plans to ask federal courts to overturn the decision, said Alykhan Velshi, a spokesman for Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

"It's important to stress that this isn't the minister's decision nor that of the government," Velshi said in a statement Friday. "It was a decision taken by the quasi-judicial, independent Immigration and Refugee Board. I will leave it to them to defend the quality of their decisions."

He declined further comment "because the matter is now before the courts."

A spokesman for the Immigration and Refugee Board earlier also had declined to comment on the grounds that refugee claims are confidential.

However, a member of the board's Refugee Protection Division, William Davis, has written in The Toronto Star that the board found that Huntley's case demonstrated "a picture of indifference and inability or unwillingness" by South Africa to protect "white South Africans from persecution by African South Africans."

About 79 percent of South Africans are black; 9.6 percent are white.

Huntley's attorney, Russell Kaplan, said his client had been attacked seven times by black South Africans who called him a "settler" and a "white dog."

"In each instance, there were racially motivated remarks that were made -- that's what distinguishes this case from ordinary criminality," Kaplan said.

The African National Congress has a different view.

"We find the claim by Huntley to have been attacked seven times by Africans due to his skin color -- without any police intervention -- sensational and alarming," the ANC said in a statement this week.

Kaplan is a human rights lawyer in Canada who left South Africa 20 years ago to escape the apartheid government's discrimination against black South Africans.

"Twenty years later, we have this case that involves the exact opposite," he said this week.

Newspaper clippings were presented as evidence of life in South Africa during the August 18 hearing, South Africa's The Times reported.

Kaplan's sister, who came to Canada last year, testified about "the torture and murder" of their brother, who was killed by robbers in 1997, the newspaper reported.

The ANC said the current government under President Jacob Zuma is committed to fighting crime "regardless of color or creed."

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The South African government would have preferred Canada seek its view "before such a decision was made," South African Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa told The Times.

"Quite clearly, the allegations are as preposterous as they are laughable -- which they would be if they were not serious," he told the newspaper.

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