5-year-old refused flight home to Vancouver over new passport rules

A B.C. mother and her five-year-old son had a hard time getting home from Japan after new passport rules meant the boy wasn't allowed to fly back without a Canadian passport — and the family hopes its ordeal will be a warning to Canadian dual citizens travelling this holiday season.

Boy has dual citizenship and was allowed to fly to Japan last month, but not back again

Five-year-old Jonathan Heywood and his mom, Shizu, ran into trouble getting back from Japan after new passport rules meant the boy couldn't fly home as planned. (Mark Heywood)

A B.C. mother and her five-year-old son had a hard time getting home from Japan after new passport rules meant the boy wasn't allowed to fly back without a Canadian passport — and the family hopes its ordeal will be a warning to Canadian dual citizens travelling this holiday season.

Shizu Heywood and her son, Jonathan, left for Tokyo on Nov. 11 for a visit with her family. Shizu is a Canadian permanent resident and her son — who was born in Richmond — holds dual Canadian-Japanese citizenship.

Jonathan has a Japanese passport like his mom's, so it's easier for them to travel together. 

On Saturday, Heywood and Jonathan arrived at the Tokyo airport for their flight home to Vancouver but were told the five-year-old wouldn't be allowed to board because he didn't have a Canadian passport.

Jonathan, 5, lives with Type 1 diabetes. (Mark Heywood)

On Nov. 10, the federal government introduced new rules stating that dual citizens like Jonathan need a Canadian passport to fly through or into the country.

The changes were announced before they came into effect, but Heywood's husband, Mark, said the couple had no idea the guidelines had changed.

"All of a sudden, they had put something in place," he told CBC News. "Because we've been making this trip with him for the last five years and never had any problems, you just assume you won't have a problem and you don't check."

The Heywoods could have applied for a new Canadian passport for their son, but it would have taken up to three weeks for the documents to come through.

Mark said the situation was particularly taxing because Jonathan is a Type 1 diabetic, and his mom was running low on necessary medication in Tokyo.

"She took enough supplies and medication to last him the full month with a few days extra, but they went into the few days extra," Mark said. "She was stressed."

'Special authorization' refused

The government has a temporary "special authorization" program in place to help travellers who weren't aware of the new rules before leaving the country — dual citizens can apply for an exemption that will let them board their flight to Canada using their non-Canadian passport, if their flight leaves within the 10 days following the application.

For that to be approved, the applicants' Canadian citizenship has to be verified electronically through the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) — but it says there's no proof Jonathan was born in Canada within its database.

The IRCC's electronic database only holds documents previously issued by the office and those submitted by their clients, such as people applying for a Canadian passport.

Jonathan's birth is on record with Vital Statistics B.C., but the IRCC said it can't search that database.

"My son is only five years old, so he's never applied for a Canadian passport or Canadian citizenship or anything like that," Mark said. "They have no electronic records of him, so [the special authorization application] was refused.

"Of all the innocent people in the world, you'd think a five-year-old child would be approved," he added.

Jonathan Heywood, 5, has been making trips to Tokyo with his mom twice a year since he was born. (Mark Heywood)

In order to get home without Jonathan's Canadian passport, Shizu and her son flew to Seattle on Tuesday. From there, they're able to drive to B.C. (Canadian children under the age of 16 are allowed to drive home from the U.S. with their birth certificate as documentation.)

Warning for other air travellers

The father said he hopes other travellers will take his family's ordeal as a reminder to double-check immigration rules before they travel.

"I guess some of the blame could be laid with us because we could've done the research, but at the end of the day I think the government dropped the ball on this one," Heywood said.

"If you were researching it, yeah, you'd find it. Lesson learned for me: Next time they go on a trip there I'm going to check the website for regulation changes.

"Unfortunately, I didn't do that this time."