Disguised asylum seeker says coached to lie by smugglers

VANCOUVER—A young asylum seeker who snuck into Canada disguised as an old man told an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing Thursday he was coached to lie by smugglers in China.

Because of that, a government lawyer claims the man is a liar and a flight risk who should be held in custody.

But the man’s own lawyer believes the 20-year-old is being singled out for added detention because he’s an embarrassment after a government bungle.

The young man’s picture, with a black bar over his eyes, was broadcast around the world, alongside another picture of him wearing a latex mask that made him look like an old Caucasian man.

The man boarded an Air Canada flight from Hong Kong last October wearing the elaborate mask, then removed it during the flight, prompting a warning from the Canada Border Services Agency that was later leaked to the media.

The claimant’s lawyer, Dan McLeod, said the only reason his client remains in detention is because the government wants to make an example of the man.

“The minister’s embarrassed, not because of what my client did, but because of what the minister’s own employees did,” he told reporters after the adjudicator reserved her decision on the man’s release.

The 20-year-old man, who can’t be named to protect his identity, appeared in person for the first time at the hearing, instead of over the phone.  Dressed in a prison-issue red jumpsuit, he spoke softly to the Mandarin interpreter.  The man admitted he lied to Canada Border Service Agency officials when he first arrived in Vancouver last October.

Government lawyer Jim Murray asked him why he didn’t tell the truth about his schooling and work.  “The snakeheads told me to say I had only elementary school,” he replied.

He also told officials at the time that he was a farmer, something the snakeheads also told him to say. But the truth is that he completed senior high school and has only ever worked three months in his life, he told the hearing.

“He’s afraid of the snakeheads, he said that,” McLeod later told reporters. “He did what he was told.”  The young man wants to be released to a friend of his father’s who lives in the GTA.

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