Harper is attempting to polish up his act

By NORMAN (OTIS) RICHMOND

Steven Harper’s government is attempting to polish up its tarnished international image. Harper is viewed by African people and progressive forces globally in the same light as Britain’s Tony Blair, as another one of President George W. Bush’s poodles.

Harper’s government was severely criticized for its treatment of Suaad Hagi Mohamud, a 31-year-old Somali-born Canadian citizen, who was trapped in Kenya for three months. Mohamud, whose ordeal included nine harrowing days in a Nairobi jail, said that she “thought my government would back me up”. Mohamud, unfortunately, thought more highly of her government than her government thought about her.

The conservative government is appealing a decision by the Immigration and Refugee Board to grant asylum to Brandon Huntley, a 31-year-old White South African who claimed he feared racial persecution in the former settler colony. He lives in Ottawa and spent three years as an illegal immigrant in Canada before seeking refugee status in 2008.

This rare flip-flop by Harper’s government came as a result of fierce international condemnation.

“Our department’s lawyer as well as those from (Department of Justice) reviewed the IRB decision,” said Alykhan Velshi, spokesperson for immigration minister Jason Kenney. Huntley complained that his life and his livelihood were threatened in the new South Africa. A Canadian immigration and refugee board panel ruled recently that Huntley could stay in Canada because he presented “clear and convincing proof of the State’s inability or unwillingness to protect him”.

It’s likely the first time a White South African has been granted refugee status in Canada claiming persecution from Black South Africans, said Russell Kaplan, Huntley’s immigration lawyer who called the decision a “landmark case”. The South African government has ordered its ambassador to Canada to demand answers over the decision to grant refugee status to a South African because he is White.

Press reports say Huntley demonstrated “a picture of indifference and inability or unwillingness” by South Africa to protect “White South Africans from persecution by African South Africans”, Williams Davis, a member of the refugee protection division of the Immigration and Refugee Board, wrote in his decision.

Huntley did not win refugee status because he had been attacked, said Kaplan, but because he was “at risk of persecution in a country with an overwhelmed police and discriminatory hiring policies. The police just cannot cope with all the crime that is taking place”.

But spokeswoman for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Nomfanelo Kota, described the decision as “disgusting”.

A government statement read: “We find the claim by Huntley to have been attacked seven times by Africans due his skin color without any police intervention sensational and alarming. Canada’s reasoning for granting Huntley a refugee status can only serve to perpetuate racism.”

Huntley grew up in the affluent Cape Town suburb of Mowbray, close to the slopes of the Devil’s Peak next to Table Mountain.  Most middle class South African can afford 24-hours armed security, electric fences, guard dogs and security beams.

It must be mentioned that the official unemployment rate for White South Africans is 4.6 per cent, compared to 27.9 per cent for Black South Africans, despite an affirmative action drive.

Many White South Africans have packed up and left, moving to Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, blaming crime and discrimination in the job market in favour of non-Whites, many of whom received little or poor education during apartheid.

The Canadian government is incorrectly credited with being progressive on the South African issue.

We are constantly told that African people are in debt to former Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson. However, a new book, The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy by Yves Engler, pulls the cover off this maple leaf myth.

Says Engler: “Contrary to popular understanding, Canada mostly supported apartheid in South Africa. First, by providing it with a model. South Africa patterned its policy towards Blacks after Canadian policy towards First Nations.

“South African officials regularly came to Canada to examine reserves set aside for First Nations, following colleagues who had studied residential schools in earlier parts of the century.”

It must never be forgotten that the Canadian government did business with the apartheid regime and opposed the liberation movement, including the African National Congress of South Africa (ANC), Nelson Mandela’s party.

Canada’s relationship with the ANC was, initially, hostile and then it became ambivalent. The government did not recognize the ANC until 1984.

In August 1987, then foreign minister Joe Clark laid out the government’s position.

Said Clark: “Canada has been able to develop a relationship of trust with the African National Congress that it is hoped to have helped to strengthen the hand of Black moderates.”

Remember “constructive engagement”? Didn’t the Canadian and British governments not follow the lead of U.S. President Ronald Reagan on this issue? W. E. B. Du Bois said the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the colour line. The colour line continues to plague humanity in the 21st.

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