British Columbia

'Masked man' refugee plot suspects arrested

An employee at Hong Kong airport has been arrested in connection with the attempt by a man to fly into Canada illegally wearing a silicone mask.

Syndicate allegedly charged $45,000 for escape to other countries

An employee at Hong Kong International Airport has been arrested along with seven other people in connection with the attempt by a young Chinese man to enter Canada illegally while wearing the silicone mask of an old man, according to a report in Hong Kong.

The employee's arrest came after two former airport staff were arrested Saturday along with five others, a report in the Hong Kong Standard newspaper said Sunday.

Those arrested were accused of helping a Chinese man in his 20s board an Air Canada flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver Oct. 29 with false identification papers. At some point in the journey, the man had donned an elaborate silicone mask of an old man.

Initial reports said the man boarded the aircraft wearing the mask, but testimony at an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing in Vancouver in December indicated he put the mask on during the flight.

The change in the man's appearance alarmed some of his fellow passengers, who alerted flight staff. The RCMP and the Canada Border Service Agency were notified and the man was arrested after officers boarded the plane when it arrived at the airport gate in Vancouver.

Seeking refugee status

The man immediately asked for refugee status and has been held in detention in Vancouver while authorities try to determine his real identity and find out who helped him in the scheme.

The Hong Kong report quoted a government spokesman who said the eight arrested all are citizens of Hong Kong and are between the ages of 26 and 62.

Investigators believe the would-be refugee was helped by at least one member of airport ground staff to get on board the aircraft, the report said.

It said the two-month investigation found the man first made it through immigration with a genuine passport. He then obtained a fake passport and boarding pass in the departure hall before getting on the flight.

The arrests were the result of raids in 10 locations on Friday and Saturday and all those arrested were part of an alleged syndicate that helped people emigrate illegally for a cost of about $45,000, the Hong Kong report said.