A few weeks before British MP George Galloway scuttled his 2009 Canadian speaking tour upon being declared a persona non grata, a man with a vastly more checkered past landed on the tarmac of Vancouver International Airport.
Under questioning from federal agents, the South Asian caught with a false passport revealed his secret story: He had once dreamed of dying as an Islamist terrorist. He had handled guns and fired assault rifles in his youth. He admitted he had recently given 40,000 rupees (about $1,000) to a terrorist.
Pressed about his line of work, he told border guards he had been operating as a spy.
And during that December, 2008, interrogation, the border guards heard his views on the previous month's carnage in Mumbai. "It's stupid. It's crazy," he said, disagreeing with the terrorists' tactics. " … They should not kill people in the streets. They should do it at the border."
Nearly 18 months later, this man - referred to only as Mr. XXXXX in court documents, owing to refugee-anonymity laws - is living in Canada despite being initially declared inadmissible.
He was arrested at the airport and branded a double-whammy danger - a potential spy or terrorist. He is one of only 30-odd people that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney declared "inadmissible" that year as national-security threats, Mr. Galloway being a more prominent example.
The case speaks to the limitations of Mr. Kenney's powers. While the minister and his officials can ban foreigners as security threats, they don't always succeed once the foreigners' toes touch Canadian soil. The relevant law - Section 34 of Canada's Immigration Act - gives the minister wide-ranging powers to seal the border to undesirables, but the decisions can be overturned at a tribunal where foreigners plead their cases.
After several weeks' detention, Mr. XXXXX was let go on bail conditions and proceeded to convince the federal Immigration and Refugee Board he was no threat.
Ottawa appealed that ruling, and last week a higher-level IRB adjudicator also said the man should be allowed in. Whether he can stay is another matter: Mr. XXXXX is only cleared to have his asylum claim heard, a process that can take two years or more.
The refugee board and its appeal division explored several key questions in the case of Mr. XXXXX, who hails from Kashmir, a disputed borderland to which both Pakistan and India lay claim.
Growing up, he had ties to a militant group - the Party of Holy Warriors, or Hizbul Mujahedeen - and says he was tortured by the Indian government.
But was he a terrorist threat? In their filings, border guards alleged he was: "Mr. XXXXX admits that when he was young he had dreams that he would die as a martyr." However, an IRB adjudicator found the man had grown out of his youthful "romanticized notions of violence."
What about the guns? Mr. XXXXX admitted to handling a pistol when he was just 10 years old, but the IRB found "he was too young to understand" what he was doing.
He also admitted to six months of training in assault rifles during his teens. But the IRB ruled it was unclear whether he got the tutelage as an army cadet, or inside a Kashmir training camp, or inside "a boy-scout camp for self growth."
What about the 40,000 rupees? Mr. XXXXX told borders guards he gave that sum to a Hizbul Mujahedeen member, but only to advance one of his spying operations. "The payment was not an attempt to fund a terrorist group," the IRB ruled.
What about the spying, then? The IRB pointed out that the law says that only people who spy against democracies are barred from Canada. Mr. XXXXX admitted only to spying in Pakistan, then led by an army general. The country was "not a democracy as the term is understood in Canada," according to the tribunal.
And the Mumbai Massacre comment? The IRB adjudicator was perturbed by the man's "do-it-at-the-border" remark. Still, he found that Mr. XXXXX was merely advocating conventional war as opposed to terrorism.
For these and other reasons, the refugee tribunal found Mr. XXXXX was not a threat and therefore "not inadmissible" to Canada.