Young Canada asylum-seeker was disguised as old man

VANCOUVER Fri Nov 5, 2010 3:23pm EDT

Combination photo shows a man in custody with and without his disguise in this handout image released to Reuters on November 5, 2010. REUTERS/Canada Border Services/Handout

Combination photo shows a man in custody with and without his disguise in this handout image released to Reuters on November 5, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Canada Border Services/Handout

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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canadian authorities were trying to determine on Friday how a man believed to be in his 20s was able to board a flight in Hong Kong to Vancouver having disguised himself as an elderly passenger.

The young man, who was arrested when he arrived in Canada, boarded an Air Canada flight on October 29 wearing a realistic silicon head and neck mask that made him appear elderly, according to media reports and photographs.

A spokesman for Canada's public safety minister confirmed the incident but declined further comment. The man requested asylum in Canada when he arrived, which prevents officials from disclosing his name or where he is from. He is now being held in custody.

The man was able to board the flight apparently without a passport or any other documents with a picture or date of birth. He carried the boarding pass of a U.S. citizen who was booked on the flight.

Although the young man is of Asian origin, the intricate disguise made him look like a very elderly Caucasian.

"It is believed that the subject and the actual United States citizen passenger, whose date of birth is 1955, performed a boarding pass swap," according to a Canadian Border Services Agency security alert obtained by CNN.

An Air Canada spokesman said the issue was under investigation by Canadian authorities, but said there are multiple identification checks for passengers in Hong Kong - including one by the Chinese government.

Transport Canada is investigating if screening regulations were broken. It is the responsibility of airlines to verify the identity of passengers who appear to be 18 years or older before they are allowed on the aircraft.

"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," said John Babcock, a spokesman for Transport Minister Chuck Strahl.

The man went into the airplane toilet midway through the flight and removed his disguise, according to the CBSA alert which noted the impostor did not attempt to disguise the age of his hands.

A search of the man's luggage uncovered gloves and a "disguise kit," according to the alert.

(Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)

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