Air Canada says speculation that a masked man was able to board a Vancouver-bound flight with only an Aeroplan card for identification is "totally unfounded."

According to an internal alert from the Canada Border Services Agency, border officials believe the disguised Chinese asylum-seeker swapped boarding passes with a U.S. citizen and then showed an Aeroplan card at the gate in order to board a flight to Canada.

But the airline said Saturday that there is no evidence of that.

"The rumour that Air Canada staff at the boarding gate accepted an Aeroplan card as proof of identification in lieu of passport at the gate is totally unfounded. The facts relating to this passenger's acceptance on board the aircraft are still being investigated," Air Canada said in a statement.

The airline says that it is conducting an internal investigation with its staff in Hong Kong and a contractor that verifies passports at Air Canada gates in the city's airport.

The CBSA has declined to comment on the specifics of the case, except to say that a passenger who arrived in Vancouver under false pretences on Oct. 29 is being held in custody while he awaits an immigration hearing.

Asylum seeker just one of thousands

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says that if the CBSA alert about the masked man hadn't been leaked to the media, this would have been just one more refugee case among thousands.

"In many ways the issue was not, other than the mask, unusual with people trying to enter the country illegally," Toews said at security forum in Halifax.

Although many refugee claimants do use illegal means to enter the country and therefore put themselves in legal limbo, the illegal entry is legitimized if they can prove their claims of persecution in their home countries.

Asylum seekers arrive at Canadian airports every day. The CBSA says that in 2008, more than 80,000 people made refugee claims at Canadian airports.

The masked man's lawyer, Lee Rankin, believes his client has a fighting chance of proving his refugee status.

"Many people from the southern part of China claim asylum for various reasons. China, of course, is one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world," he said.