Africa, Politics

Waiting for Huntley: SA’s favourite refugee goes all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court

By Richard Poplak 14 October 2011

In 2009, Brandon Huntley enraged most South Africans with his claim for refugee status in Canada, based on his persecution by black criminals, who targeted him because he was white. Undaunted, he’s back in Canadian courts, hoping to have his revocation revoked. Eish! By RICHARD POPLAK.

He stands as a sort of post-apartheid boogeyman—a real person seemingly risen from our collective consciousness as a fictional character in a Samuel Beckett knock-off. He is sculptural, unknowable, a foil, a fop, a flimflam artist—and he’s just written act two of his ongoing courtroom drama. Let’s call it “Waiting for Huntley”, because one thing is almost certain: Our boy is coming home.

Huntley ignited an international brouhaha in 2009, when he went before the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board claiming that he had on seven occasions been beaten, robbed and misspoken to by black South Africans. According to his testimony, Huntley was targeted because of the colour of his skin. The IRB concurred, placing him in the same category as Tamils fleeing mass murder in Sri Lanka, Afghans facing the rage of the Taliban in Kandahar and Somalis dodging the suicide vests of Al Shabaab in Puntland.

Indeed, the IRB hears stories so brutal, so utterly depraved, they would make you lose your remaining scrap of faith in humanity. But it is a bureaucracy, and bureaucracies are governed by their own internal logic. In this case, it was a logic the South African government couldn’t take. In uncharacteristically forthright terms, the high commissioner one MN Pheko—and Lord knows what she usually does in frigid Ottawa—communicated the following: The ruling was “racist”, and could “seriously damage the relations between the two countries”. At the heart of the issue was the IRB’s statement, which wasn’t flattering of South Africa’s ability to shelter its vulnerable white minority from hordes of raging blacks, citing as it did the “indifference and inability or unwillingness of the government and the security forces to protect white South Africans from persecution by African South Africans”.

The Canadian government reacted instantly. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservative regime doesn’t like softness from any of its bureaucratic functionaries, especially regarding crime and immigration, and is anyway deeply suspicious of the judiciary process. Ottawa called the ruling “perverse” and sent it to the Federal Court of Canada for a review.

Enter the perfectly named Rocco Galati, Huntley’s new lawyer, and a man who clearly won’t be planning a safari to the Kruger National Park anytime soon. Through Galati, Huntley has twice appealed at federal court level, insisting he can no longer get a fair hearing at the IRB because the board has been tagged as racist. (Huh? I don’t get it either.) But the Federal Court doesn’t seem amused by this new round of legal touch rugby. Justice John Evans dismissed the latest appeal as “totally unmeritorious”, and ordered Huntley to pay the court costs. Last November, after releasing a 128-page review concerning the first appeal, a court wrote that while Huntley, “may well have been conspicuous…because he is white. And this is because, in the context of South Africa’s culture and history, whiteness connotes either substantial or relative wealth. In my view, however, this does not render the attacks racist.”

At this point, Huntley gets on a plane and flies to Johannesburg to get mugged for an eighth time, right?


“I think there is a lot of political correctness involved here. Why is it so shocking that a poor white South African can claim refugee status here? Seven times he was physically attacked, with racial slurs hurled at him,” fumed Galati. “The Federal Court got swept away in political correctness and political correctness should not be a deterrence to applying the law.”

(Sorry, but I must pause here to admire Galati’s third sentence, and the beautiful Yiddish cadence of “seven times he was attacked, with racial slurs hurled at him”. For a gentleman of Italian extraction, he talks like he grew up in Williamsburg in the forties, and has read his Roth and his Bellow.)

Galati wasn’t done fulminating. “That foreign governments are putting political and diplomatic pressure on our government to interfere in our independent judicial functions is perhaps even more disturbing.”

Duly disturbed, Huntley and his counsel are now taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, the final judicial stop on his road to futility. He will almost certainly be met with a lack of sympathy, and a very hefty legal bill. To be sure, Huntley does not want to go back to the country of his birth. He is married to a Canadian girl now, and has settled in the capital, near enough to high commissioner Pheko for one to drool over the possibility of an accidental run in at a local coffee shop.

One does selfishly hope Huntley gets what’s coming to him—exile to the bottom of Africa—where he will scuttle around in terror of the blacks who have previously targeted him for his wallet and cellphone, if for nothing but for dramatic closure. That said, I’m not sure I’d wish him on anybody.

South Africa created him, though, so we should rightly be stuck with him. He certainly shouldn’t take the place of a persecuted Uyghur or a mutilated female Afghan middle-school student in the frozen north. No, he must suffer through braai season with the rest of us, flinching at every sound in his house, speeding through red robots in his late-model car after dusk in case he’s jacked by men in balaclavas. As Rocco Galati would no doubt agree, there’s no justice like poetic justice. DM

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