September 2, 2009 / 7:02 PM / 8 years ago

Canada studying contentious S.Africa refugee case

OTTAWA/CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Canadian government lawyers are studying a controversial decision by an immigration board to grant refugee status to a white South African who said he suffered racist attacks at home, an official said on Wednesday.

Once the federal immigration department’s legal team has finished its work, Ottawa has the option of turning to Canada’s Federal Court and asking for a formal review.

The decision by the Canadian immigration board to grant Brandon Huntley residence on the grounds that he was persecuted for being white has been widely condemned in South Africa, where race remains a sensitive issue 15 years after apartheid ended.

“Our department’s lawyers are currently reviewing the decision ... the government could seek a judicial review,” said Danielle Norris, a spokeswoman for Canada’s federal citizenship and immigration department.

“A judicial review by the Federal Court will not hear additional evidence with respect to the facts -- for example, conditions in South Africa.”

Hours earlier, South African Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sue van der Merwe told Parliament that Pretoria would urge Canada to carry out a review.

In London, a senior member of South Africa’s governing African National Congress expressed doubt that a white South African could have suffered such racist attacks in his home country.

Thandi Modise, deputy secretary-general of the ANC, said it would have been better if the Canadian government had tried to find out whether it was true that Huntley had been attacked seven times as he said.

The ANC has called the board’s decision racist after Huntley gave evidence that he would be “persecuted” by black Africans because he was white.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board is an independent tribunal that operates at arm’s length from the government and makes decisions solely on evidence.

South Africa is still scarred by decades of institutionalized racial division. Whites continue to dominate Africa’s biggest economy, but say the government’s affirmative action policies amount to reverse discrimination as the state intervenes to empower more of the black majority.

Reporting by David Ljunggren and Wendell Roelf; editing by Peter Galloway

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