Attorney Defends Canadian Refugee Board Decision Criticized By South Africa

(CNN) -- An attorney for a white South African man says his client was rightfully granted refugee status in Canada because he was the victim of racial violence and discrimination in his homeland.

Russell Kaplan, who represented Brandon Huntley, 31, in the asylum case, responded Wednesday to a statement from South Africa's ruling party, which has denounced Canada's decision to grant Huntley refugee status, calling it "racist."

"We find the claim by (Brandon) Huntley to have been attacked seven times by Africans due his skin colour -- without any police intervention -- sensational and alarming," the African National Congress (ANC) said in a statement issued Tuesday. "Canada's reasoning for granting Huntley a refugee status can only serve to perpetuate racism."

A spokesman for Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board said he was aware of the statement, but could not provide any details about the case.

"Any refugee protection claim is strictly confidential," Stephane Malepart told CNN. He said the board is a group of "independent decision-makers at arm's length of the government."

Huntley, 31, spent more than a year in Canada illegally before requesting refugee status last year, arguing that he was being persecuted for his race, Kaplan said Wednesday.

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

The board granted him refugee status last week after determining 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," William Davis, a member of the board's refugee protection division, wrote in his decision last week, according to the Toronto Star newspaper.

Kaplan told CNN that his client had been attacked seven times by black South Africans who called him a "settler" and a "white dog."

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.

Kaplan said not only was he harassed and attacked by black South Africans, he also was unable to find work under new legislation that seeks to "empower" black Africans in the workforce.

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 emigrated 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 stressed in its statement that the current government, under ANC leader President Jacob Zuma, is committed to fighting crime "regardless of colour or creed."

South Africa would have preferred Canada seek the South African government's 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.

The-CNN-Wire/Atlanta
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