Illegal Immigrants Who Sparked Scare at Toronto Airport Claiming to Be Refugees

Seven men who sparked a security scare at Toronto's Pearson Airport on the weekend have been released for immigration hearings after claiming refugee status.

Airport security officers were scrambled Saturday night to meet an Air Canada jet carrying seven illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic. They were travelling on phony documents and were suspected of being terrorists.

Officers waited outside Terminal 1 and then escorted the men off the flight. They were detained for several hours for questioning.

Air Canada spokesman Laura Cooke said seven people were detained for lack of documents on Flight 1849 from Puerto Plata, in the Dominican Republic.

``The matter was referred to immigration and we are conducting an internal review,'' she said Monday.

Airport officers said the flight crew became suspicious of the men and radioed Pearson officials. The Sri Lankan men, who couldn't speak English or French, had Canadian passports issued to them under French names.

Mugshots of the illegal immigrants were imposed over photos on the documents, police said.

An elite immigration team had refused to process the men in an overtime dispute in their ongoing PSAC strike, Pearson workers said.

Immigration spokesman Giovanna Gatti said she couldn't talk about the incident.

``To comment on specifics could jeopardize any investigation being undertaken by the agency,'' she said, adding 6,400 travellers with bogus documents were nabbed last year trying to get to Canada.

Alien smugglers are now using French Canadian passports to smuggle Sri Lankans and Indian nationals to Canada, police said.

Two of the seven men, who are from the Dominican Republic, are being probed for allegedly paying a bribe to ground workers there to be snuck on the flight. The men were interviewed, photographed, and fingerprinted before being released for hearings, which can begin in about a month.

About 20 refugee claimants arrived at Pearson and claimed status last weekend, airport officers said.