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Old-man mask used to get into Canada Refugee claim made upon arrival

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Airline officials, border personnel and Parliament Hill politicians were all keeping tight-lipped Friday about the stunning spy-novel saga of a young man who boarded a transcontinental Air Canada flight who wore a disguise that made him appear to be an elderly passenger.

The man was seeking refugee status in Vancouver in what an internal Canada Border Services Agency bulletin described as an "unbelievable case of concealment."

The Nov. 1 bulletin, first revealed late Thursday by CNN, came complete with an eyebrow-raising set of before-and-after photos that show the man in various stages of his disguise, which included a leather flat cap, brown cardigan and eyeglasses. The centrepiece, however, was a remarkably detailed, realistic-looking flesh-tone mask, which appeared to be made of silicone or rubber and came complete with a misshapen nose, pursed lips and wrinkles.

The bulletin, written at times in an awestruck tone, described how the man boarded Flight AC018 in Hong Kong on Oct. 29, and looked for all the world to crew members like an old Caucasian man who, curiously enough, "appeared to have young-looking hands."

Later in the flight, however, "the subject attended the washroom and emerged an Asian-looking male that appeared to be in his early 20s."

The bulletin, which was posted to the Internet by CNN, said border services officials believe the young man managed to get on the plane with nothing more than an Aeroplan card and a boarding pass that he obtained from a 55-year-old American passenger.

"As neither Aeroplan cards nor boarding passes reflect dates of birth, it may not have been difficult for the very elderly-looking imposter to pass himself off as a 55-year-old man," the bulletin said.

On Friday, few Canadian officials were forthcoming with details.

The agency eventually acknowledged the myriad media reports about the disguise, but would not confirm the bulletin as its own. The CBSA "did not officially release the report or the photo, and we will not be doing so," it said.

The agency did confirm, however, that border services officials "intercepted and detained the traveller attempting to enter Canada under false pretenses."

It said the traveller is being detained and would be appearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board.

"Protecting the integrity of our borders and safety of Canadians remains the top priority of the CBSA," the statement said. Transport Canada was investigating whether "identity screening regulations were respected," it added.

John Babcock, press secretary to Transport Minister Chuck Strahl, acknowledged the incident.

"Air carriers are supposed to look at a passenger's entire face to determine if they appear to be over 18, and if so, compare their physical appearance with their travel documents," he said.

Government House Leader John Baird called the incident a "deep concern."

"Obviously, we're going to get the facts first," Baird said when asked whether the incident could damage Canada's reputation. "We've seen some of the facts come out with the report. There's going to be a full investigation and we'll await the results of that."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 6, 2010 A15

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