HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) -- A young Chinese man who boarded an Air Canada flight in Hong Kong elaborately disguised as an elderly white male is seeking refugee status in Canada in what border officials are calling an "unbelievable case of concealment."
An internal intelligence alert from the Canadian Border Service shows before-and-after photos, and describes how the man boarded the flight in Hong Kong on Oct. 29 wearing a remarkable silicone mask to make him look like an elderly man.
A Canadian government official gave the alert to The Associated Press. The official provided the document Friday on condition of anonymity as the official was not authorized to release it publicly.
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 document says the man had a bag that contained a "disguise kit which consisted of a silicone type head and neck mask of an elderly Caucasian male, a brown leather cap, glasses and a thin brown cardigan."
The bulletin, which carried the headline "Unbelievable Case of Concealment," said information was received by Air Canada Corporate security regarding a possible impostor.
The impostor's makeover is much more elaborate than previous cases, where suspects simply tried to match the hairdo, clothing and height of the passport holder they are trying to imitate, Hong Kong Undersecretary for Security T.K. Lai told reporters in Hong Kong on Saturday.
"This is a brand new method," Lai said.
The Canadian bulletin said the man later admitted to officials that he had boarded the flight with the mask on and had removed it several hours later. It says they believe the man and another man performed a boarding pass swap. The government official said a U.S. passport was also involved.
Hong Kong's Immigration Department said in a statement it is investigating and declined to give specifics.
A Hong Kong official told the AP that the impostor is a mainland Chinese citizen who was transiting through Hong Kong. The official declined to be named because she is not authorized to release the information.
Chris McCluskey, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, said a man is in detention and said the matter is before Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board. A spokeswoman for the Immigration and Refugee Board declined comment.
Air Canada also confirmed a passenger on board flight AC018 had been met by border services officials in Vancouver.
John Babcock, a spokesman for Canada's Transport Minister, declined to release details but said airlines have the responsibility to verify the identity of all passengers who appear to be 18 years of age or older.
"That means 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," Babcock said.
Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah said outbound passengers in Hong Kong go through several identity checks, including passport control.
But the Hong Kong official said the Chinese man likely escaped detection because he used his own travel documents and a genuine boarding pass when clearing immigration checkpoints in the southern Chinese city, then swapped travel papers with a collaborator in the transit lounge just before boarding the flight to Vancouver.
Although former British colony Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it still maintains border controls. Mainland residents still need visas to visit Hong Kong but they are easy to obtain.
Jessica Wilson/ KETKnbc.com