Canada rejects Roma activist despite claims of neo-Nazi attacks in Hungary


OTTAWA — A Roma political activist and his family, long targets of reported neo-Nazi attacks in Hungary, have been denied refugee status in Canada after an Immigration and Refugee Board member ruled they have no legitimate fear of persecution in their homeland.
Gyula Kanto, a Roma civil-rights leader, appealed the ruling, but in a Sept. 5 decision signed in Ottawa, the Federal Court of Canada backed the board’s refusal, even though it noted that a board member was wrong in his assessment of state protection.
The ruling comes at a time when human rights groups around the world are calling on Hungary to stop the violent, and at times murderous, hate campaign waged against Roma people.
Kanto, his wife and son, arrived in Canada on Sept. 15, 2009, and applied for refugee protection the same day. They detailed their fears, recounting the times they had been attacked, including times when they said the police stood by and did nothing. The Kanto family also spoke of discrimination at the hands of racists and argued that Roma people qualify for only menial labour jobs.
Making things worse for Kanto in Hungary was that he was a public figure after he ran in the election as a Roma civil rights leader in 2006. In their claim, the refugee board heard about the time, on Nov. 21, 2006, that Kanto’s son, Gyula Jr., was attacked on his way home from school by a group of at least six skinheads. His son told the board he managed to escape and run home with only minor wounds.
Weeks later, according to court documents, the boy was attacked by the same group of men and his friends came to his rescue after a police officer refused to come to his aid, saying the boy had probably triggered the fight.
“In 2006, Gyula Kanto Sr. participated in the Roma elections for a position in the minority government,” according to a summary of background facts in court documents. “This participation further publicized his ethnicity and role as a Roma activist. In the applicants’ apartment complex, their upstairs neighbour was a known Guardist (a street thug who dresses in traditional Hungarian Nazi colours and spreads fear). The neighbour would shout racial slurs at them and send threatening letters. He even broke their windows. The applicants complained to the police but they refused to intervene.”
Then, on July 8, 2009, Kanto’s son said, he was confronted by three Guardists and when he said he’d call the police, one of his tormentors pulled out a police badge said, “Complain all you want, but we will not investigate.” Someone then smashed a beer bottle in his face and he required stitches.
Then on July 25, 2009, according to court documents, Kanto Sr. was attacked from behind on the subway and punched in the face by a young man. No passengers came to his rescue. “He complained to a police officer who smiled and declared that no one is attacked without prior provocation. This is the most significant incident that influenced the applicants’ decision to flee Hungary. At some point in August 2009, Gyula Kanto Sr. encountered a demonstration while on his way home and a group of skinheads began to verbally assault him, telling him to disappear.”
“On August 26, 2009, Gyula Kanto Jr. was surrounded and verbally abused by a group of police officers at a bank machine. They spoke with approval about a recent violent attack on Romanies by a group of skinheads. The applicant overheard one of the police officers say: ‘At least there is one less Roma in the country.’”
In its ruling that backed up the board’s rejection, the Federal Court decision signed by Justice Yves de Montigny agreed that the Kanto family did not establish a genuine fear of persecution that afforded them refugee protection in Canada. The judge noted that a board member made a mistake in his assessment of the protection Hungary could afford the Kanto family, notably that he considered Hungary’s legislative intentions and efforts to combat discrimination and not actually what they are doing to stop it.