Alleged spy who jumped bail assumed identity of dead five-year-old Canadian

OTTAWA — An alleged spy who disappeared after being freed on bail in Cyprus assumed the identity of a dead five-year-old Canadian boy to obtain a passport, raising fresh questions about travel document security.

OTTAWA — An alleged spy who disappeared after being freed on bail in Cyprus assumed the identity of a dead five-year-old Canadian boy to obtain a passport, raising fresh questions about travel document security.

The apparent abuse of the Canadian passport system by Christopher Metsos underscores a persistent gap that has long prevented federal officials from easily verifying the data on birth and citizenship certificates, commonly used by applicants to obtain passports.

Solon Savva, deputy chief of mission at the Cypriot High Commission to Canada, confirmed statements from the Mediterranean island’s justice minister, Loucas Louca, that Metsos, 54, held “a valid, genuine Canadian passport” obtained using the identity of a Canadian who died at age five.

Savva said Louca learned the details from Renata Wielgosz, Canada’s ambassador to Cyprus and Greece.

The Cyprus Mail newspaper said the state broadcaster reported Metsos had obtained the passport through the Canadian Embassy in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Foreign Affairs Department refuses to answer questions about the spy cases. Wielgosz did not respond to a request for comment.

Metsos is among 11 people — four of whom claim to be Canadian — indicted on charges of conspiring to act as secret agents in the United States on behalf of the Russian Federation.

The 10 suspects in custody pleaded guilty Thursday as part of a swap for prisoners in Russia.

But the mysterious Metsos remains at large.

The FBI says he often travelled to the United States to meet with agents and pay them on behalf of Moscow.

In 2004, a Russian government official surreptitiously slipped Metsos money in New York City, court documents say. Metsos then buried some cash in upstate New York and, two years later, two other members of the spy ring arrived to dig it up, the FBI alleges.

Metsos, arrested June 29, disappeared after a judge in Cyprus granted him bail.

Investigators allege a suspect claiming to be Donald Heathfield also assumed the identity of a dead Canadian child as part of his spy legend.

In searching a Cambridge, Mass., safe-deposit box, investigators found a photocopy of an Ontario birth certificate in the name of Donald Howard Graham Heathfield. The real Donald Heathfield died as an infant in Quebec.

In 2006, it emerged that an alleged Russian spy using the alias Paul William Hampel relied on a phoney Ontario birth certificate to successfully obtain passports in 1995, 2000 and 2002.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser had warned in 2005 that Passport Canada had no easy way of verifying proof of citizenship.

The passport agency noted its involvement in a planned National Routing System project that would create links to Citizenship and Immigration Canada and to provincial and territorial bureaus that hold birth and death records.

This would have enabled passport staff to detect fraudulent applications promptly.

In an emailed response to questions Thursday, Passport Canada said the National Routing System pilot project was put aside in 2007 because of other priorities. It added the agency continues to work with partners “to ensure the integrity of the passport issuance process,” and is actively exploring opportunities to come up with a means of automatically verifying applicant information.

Although Passport Canada is investigating the possible abuse of Canadian travel documents in the Russian spy cases, it has declined to comment further, citing the Privacy Act.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Dick Fadden said this week that foreign spies value the Canadian passport.

“I think one of the reasons that Canada’s so attractive is that we’re so well-viewed around the world, and our passports are accepted virtually anywhere, so there is a level of concern.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A cleaner goes into Red Deer’s Canada Post sorting facility near 67th Street and Taylor Drive on Thursday morning. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Employee tests positive for COVID-19 at Red Deer Canada Post mail sorting facility

Canada Post has confirmed an employee at the Red Deer mail processing… Continue reading

Two people (not in photo) are facing charges following a Sept. 20, 2020 anti-racism rally in Red Deer.
Advocate file photo
Woman charged in Red Deer anti-racism rally going to trial

Calgary woman facing a charge of assault with a weapon in connection with Sept. 20, 2020 rally

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was in Red Deer Wednesday and addressed a number of different political topics affecting central Alberta. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Notley talks RDC, UCP draft K-6 curriculum in visit to Red Deer

Rachel Notley had only proposed a solution hours before she arrived in… Continue reading

The Bowden Institution medium security facility near Bowden. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
UPDATED: COVID-19 cases reported at Bowden Institution

Bowden Institution is dealing with seven active COVID-19 cases. The two positive… Continue reading

Photo by RANDY FIEDLER/Advocate staff BUDGET RURAL MEDICINE 2 - Dr. Fred Janke in his Sylvan Lake practice Wednesday. for story
Sylvan Lake doctor formerly accused of child sex crimes can practise again

Crown prosecutors dropped all charges against Dr. Fred Janke last November

Westerner Park’s Exhibition Hall was used as a vaccination clinic on Wednesday. A steady stream of people came to get their COVID-19 shots either by appointment or as walk-ins. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
No long lineups at walk-in vaccination site in Red Deer

A steady stream of people walked into Westerner Park on Wednesday to… Continue reading

Letisha Reimer is shown in a photo, part of a memorial to her outside Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in Abbotsford, B.C., Monday, Nov.7, 2016. A B.C. Supreme Court judge is expected to deliver her decision today over whether a man who stabbed two high school students is not criminally responsible because he had a mental disorder. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geordon Omand
Judge to rule on criminal responsibility of man who stabbed two B.C. students

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — A British Columbia Supreme Court judge is expected… Continue reading

File photo
Expert says Saskatchewan should consider more targeted vaccine plan as variants surge

SASKATOON — Nazeem Muhajarine says he feels a sense of relief after… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising Canada will slash its… Continue reading

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
More supply needed to ease housing price crunch, but always more to do, Freeland says

OTTAWA — Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says the country needs a boost… Continue reading

Smoke pours from the stacks at the Portlands Energy Centre in Toronto on Thursday January 15, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Risk experts say climate change to take big chunk of Canadian economy by 2050

One of the world’s largest insurers says Canadians will be more than… Continue reading

A Blanding’s turtle (Gabrielle Fortin/Contributed)
Earth Day: Finding hope in an old sweater

During the pandemic, many of us have spent several months at home.… Continue reading

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says 1.7 million reusable masks have been ordered at a cost of $4.2 million.” (Advocate file photo).
Alberta teachers and education minister swap accusations of politicizing curriculum

EDMONTON — Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says the group representing Alberta teachers… Continue reading

FILE - In this March 19, 2021, file photo, people take pictures of the Olympic rings installed by the Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo. The vaccine rollout in Japan has been very slow with less than 1% vaccinated. This of course is spilling over to concerns about the postponed Tokyo Olympics that open in just over three months.(AP Photo/Hiro Komae, File)
Olympic bodies launch competitive series in virtual sports

Olympic body hopes to reach more young people

Most Read