VANCOUVER - A young Asian man who managed to board an Air Canada flight in Hong Kong while elaborately disguised as an elderly Caucasian male is seeking refugee status in Vancouver in what the Canada Border Services Agency is calling an “unbelievable case of concealment.”
The story of the as-yet-unnamed man, whose silicone-mask adventure was making headlines around the world Friday, emerged the previous night from CNN, which obtained a copy of an internal alert issued earlier in the week by the Canadian border agency.
That bulletin - complete with an eyebrow-raising sequential set of before-and-after photos - describes how the man boarded Flight AC018 in Hong Kong on Oct. 29 wearing glasses, a brown cardigan sweater, a leather flat cap and a remarkable silicone mask to make him look like an elderly gentleman.
The passenger was seen at the start of the flight as an “elderly Caucasian male who appeared to have young looking hands,” the CBSA bulletin said. 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 somehow 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.”
Authorities in Canada provided few details on the matter on Friday, confirming only that someone was detained after trying to enter Canada under “false pretences” on Oct. 29.
The information about the elaborate disguise comes from the CNN report and the intelligence alert to which the network's news report was linked.
In a statement released Friday afternoon, the Canada Border Services Agency acknowledged the media reports, but cited privacy concerns in saying the CBSA “did not officially release the report or the photo, and we will not be doing so.”
The agency did confirm, however, that border services officials “intercepted and detained the traveller attempting to enter Canada under false pretences.” It said the traveller is currently under CBSA detention 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.
A spokesman in Ottawa said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews had been briefed on the incident by CBSA.
“We can also confirm that the subject is currently in CBSA detention,” said Chris McCluskey, the spokesman for Toews. “As for operational security matters, and matters before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), I cannot help you with further comment.”
Air Canada confirmed to The Canadian Press on Friday that a passenger on board flight AC018 had been met by border services officials in Vancouver.
“The matter is still under investigation by the CBSA,” said spokesman John Reber. The airline would not comment further on the incident as it remains an open case, he added.
All passengers flying to Canada from Hong Kong undergo multiple security checks before arriving at the Air Canada gates, Reber added. Those checks include the Chinese government-run Hong Kong passport control.
The CBSA bulletin said the man made a claim for refugee status after he was escorted off the aircraft.
It said the man initially claimed to own one bag, but flight crew turned over two additional pieces of baggage thought to belong to him. One of them contained a “disguise kit” with a “silicone-type head and neck mask,” a brown leather cap, glasses and a thin brown cardigan.
The bulletin said the man proceeded to put on the disguise for border services officers, who then noted that he “very much resembled” an elderly Caucasian man, and even mimicked the movements of an elderly person.
The bulletin, which carried the headline “Unbelievable Case of Concealment,” said the man admitted to officials that he had boarded the flight with the mask on and had removed it several hours later.