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Friday, November 5, 2010

Young man wears old man disguise

As the story of a young man who boarded an Air Canada flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver disguised as an old man makes headlines worldwide, the federal Conservatives have pledged a full probe of the incident.

(Officials are investigating after a man boarded a plane in Hong Kong wearing a silicone head and neck mask)

When asked about the incident during question period on Friday, Government House Leader John Baird said the incident is not only of "deep concern", but also demands more questions be answered.

The unnamed man at the centre of the story is in detention in Vancouver after he allegedly boarded an Air Canada flight in Hong Kong last week disguised as an old man.

The incident was detailed in a confidential Nov. 1 Canada Border Services Agency bulletin obtained and published to the Internet by American news channel CNN.

The bulletin says the passenger was seen at the start of the flight as an elderly Caucasian man, wearing a brown leather cap, glasses and a thin brown cardigan. He also appeared to have young-looking hands and was carrying the boarding pass and Aeroplan card of a U.S. citizen.

It appears the man had been wearing a silicone head and neck mask. During the flight, he went into the washroom and emerged as "an Asian-looking male who appeared to be in his early 20s."

The bulletin calls it an "unbelievable case of concealment." They say it appears the man swapped boarding passes with a 55-year-old American citizen in Hong Kong.

Speculating on how someone might have slipped through the various levels of airport security, former CSIS intelligence officer Michel Juneau-Katsuya said the man likely passed through the first rigourous security check using his own identity.

"But it's only when he came to the last stage before boarding that he probably met his accomplice, swiped the boarding pass, went to the washroom and put on his disguise," Juneau-Katsuya told CTV News Channel on Friday.

"Where the problem comes is with the Air Canada employees, unfortunately, who did not ask for photo ID."

After landing in Vancouver on Oct. 29, Border Services Officers escorted the man off the plane where he "proceeded to make a claim for refugee protection," the bulletin said.

The security breach is potentially embarassing for Air Canada, given that the airline made headlines last summer when British tourists filmed Muslim women boarding a flight without revealing their faces.

Beyond the embarassment, Juneau-Katsuya believes the carrier may be making itself a target.

"We've got Air Canada flagging itself as a weak point, and my preoccupation is that they might be now used by terrorists as a weak point," he said, adding that air travellers can take some consolation from the incident.

"It's difficult to bring with you now something that you may use either as a weapon or as an explosive. So that reduces substantially the risk that something may happen during a flight by a passenger who would like to commit an attack," Juneau-Katsuya explained.

In response, Air Canada spokesperson John Reber said the airline could not comment on the matter, as it is still an open case.

"The matter is still under investigation by the CBSA," Reber told The Canadian Press.

The man is due to appear at an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing.


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