Canada is a very large place, seriously in the market for more people. It was not, however, aching for the company of Brandon Carl Huntley, 31, late of Mowbray, a Cape Town suburb. He was in the country illegally. His resume, according to newspaper accounts, included stints as a carnival worker and as a garden sprinkler salesman, positions Canada is manifestly able to fill from its current reserves of human capital and which would not classify his departure from South Africa as contributing greatly to any brain drain.
So Huntley had to find some other means of persuading the Big Empty to have him. He chose to seek asylum, claiming he had been persecuted by muggers back home because he was white and the local police had done nothing to protect him. Among the logical holes in his story was his admission that he had never reported being mugged to the police. He said did not trust them to act. Evidence of their inaction was therefore lacking.
Assuming, in the absence of police reports, he truly was attacked “six or seven” times – he had scars purporting to show it – he was also hard put to prove that the alleged attacks were racially motivated. We have only his word for it that the attackers used racial epithets if and when they set upon him. And even if they did use such language, that is hardly probative of his colour having been the decisive factor in their choice of target.
Canadian headline writers often play on the title of their national anthem, O Canada, when their countrymen do something particularly embarrassing. The ruling by William Davis, sole member of the immigration tribunal that heard Huntley’s case, surely qualifies for the “Oh, Canada!” treatment. In granting Huntley refugee status, Davis agreed that the applicant would “stand out like a sore thumb in any part of South Africa”. The “evidence” showed “a picture of indifference and inability or unwillingness by the government and security forces to protect white South Africans from persecution by African South Africans”.
This is ignorant on so many levels. Merely to have visited South Africa is to know that black people do not persecute white people there. It runs counter to everything that makes South Africa special to all of us who love it. Yes, crime is a serious problem. Dealing with it is in the top tier of the government’s agenda. By a huge margin, the majority of victims is black.
A final verdict on Davis’s ruling must await the release of the full text. At this writing, we only have the bits Huntley’s lawyer, Russell Kaplan, a South African expat who has been living in Canada for 20 years, shared with the media. Still, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this was a most peculiar proceeding. Davis relied in good measure on horror stories told by Kaplan’s sister Laura, herself a recent immigrant. Well, there can’t have been an ounce of bias there, can there?
The case might well have passed unnoticed had not Kaplan, or his client, decided to let the world know about it. Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board, home of the tribunal that heard the matter, renders more than 40 000 decisions are year. The proceeding was closed to the public. There is as yet no mention of it on the board’s website, no press release was issued and IRB officials have studiously declined comment citing privacy concerns.
Some if not all tribunal decisions are eventually published on the internet. Three of Davis’ rulings from 2007 can be found there. In one, he granted asylum to a former member of the Peruvian armed forces who feared reprisals for atrocities that occurred while he was on active service against the Shining Path in the 1980s.
Two other applications Davis rejected. One was from an Albanian who claimed his wife’s brothers were out to kill him after he was photographed having gay sex. Davis was not convinced he faced persecution. The man merely “came to Canada to find a better life”. The second was from an Afghan who said the Taliban were after him. Davis found the timing of this application suspect. “The claimant made his refugee claim on the very same day his status in Canada expired.” And yet Huntley’s claim, made long after his visa expired, was somehow not so suspect.
You have to know what you are looking for to find these cases. Kaplan and his client might have done themselves a favour by simply shutting up, but no, they wanted their 15 minutes of fame. Huntley would not have been missed in South Africa which, like Canada, faces no shortage of carnival workers or sprinkler salesmen. South Africa would not have had to publicly respond to the shameful distortions contained in Davis’s decision. As it is, the Canadian government may well decide to reverse the decision and Huntley will be back to square one.
This is not, incidentally, the first case of its kind. In 1997, a Durban couple, Michelle and David Thomas, came to California with their two children on visitors visas. A year later they petitioned for asylum. They said they had endured and would continue to face reprisals because David’s father, “Boss Ronnie”, was a racist thug who threatened and abused his black workers back in South Africa. Their case made it all the way to the Supreme Court which finally upheld its initial rejection by an immigration judge. At least they had the good grace not to claim they were the victims of anybody’s racism other than Dad’s.
Simon Barber joined the International Marketing Council as US country manager in 2002. He was for many years the Washington correspondent for Business Day and the Sunday Times. He arrived in South Africa 30 years ago last September armed with little more than a degree in classics. He was sent to cover the Biko inquest and has been involved with South Africa, one way or another, ever since.