Stuck in Canada: travel plans thwarted by passport renewal lineups

She only wants to travel to Mexico with her family, but Rianna Post-Muswagon worries she’ll be left behind after trying in vain to renew her passport three times in the last two months.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/03/2022 (194 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

She only wants to travel to Mexico with her family, but Rianna Post-Muswagon worries she’ll be left behind after trying in vain to renew her passport three times in the last two months.

First, she mailed it in. Then she submitted it online. There was… crickets.

So, with her departure just days away, she decided to go to the federal government’s passport office near Portage and Main on Monday and get it done in person.

It’s time to pay the extra fee to fast-track the renewal, she said.

That didn’t work either: she was turned away after waiting for seven hours for a walk-in appointment.

MALAK ABAS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS “I’m willing to pay whatever just to get inside just to talk to someone. But… they’re saying it’s a 50-50 chance that we might not even get in,” says Rianna Post-Muswagon.

On Tuesday, she tried a fourth time by joining the lineup that stretched down the sidewalk outside the passport office at 433 Main Street.

“(Monday), I waited about six hours just for them to tell me (to come back another day), and we’re leaving in three days and I have to get a rush,” she told the Free Press Tuesday.

“I’m willing to pay whatever just to get inside just to talk to someone. But… they’re saying it’s a 50-50 chance that we might not even get in.”

Five hours after arriving, she was still in line, along with dozens of others.

“I’m willing to pay whatever just to get inside just to talk to someone. But… they’re saying it’s a 50-50 chance that we might not even get in.” – Rianna Post-Muswagon

The mad dash for passport renewals by pandemic-weary Canadians has been spurred by the loosening of restrictions and a severe case of cabin fever after a horribly long and frigid winter. Many Canadians let their passports lapse because they hadn’t planned to travel outside the country during the lockdowns and restrictions. Now, it’s time to pack the suitcase and head to the beach.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The Service Canada website recommends people who need their passport in two days or less try to get a walk-in appointment and anyone else should schedule an appointment in advance.

Officials had anticipated a run on passport renewals. While urgent renewals had been available throughout the pandemic, there was little demand for routine renewals.

More than 2.3 million passports were issued in 2019. In 2020, only 363,225 passports were issued. While demand climbed a bit in 2021, it’s set to soar as people catch the travel bug.

A spokesperson for Service Canada said they have been deluged with a rush of would-be travellers.

“Over the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, the volume of passport applications was relatively low, in part due to a reduction in travel following the imposition of public health restrictions and travel advisories,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.

“With the easing of restrictions and the resumption of travel, Service Canada has experienced an increase in passport applications across the country.”

“With the easing of restrictions and the resumption of travel, Service Canada has experienced an increase in passport applications across the country.” – Service Canada spokesperson

As of Tuesday, the average processing time was five days for an in-person application at the passport office and 17 days if applying by mail or at a Service Canada Centre.

Many of the people outside the Main Street passport office Tuesday said they’d been unable to get an in-person appointment.

Trent Martin said the few advance appointments available were “borderline impossible” to get.

“Everyone you see in this line has been here the whole time,” he said. “No one’s gone in.”

He tried to set up an appointment last week, and was told he’d hear back in two business days, but he received no response.

MALAK ABAS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Trent Martin said the few advance appointments available were “borderline impossible” to get.

“Even if we could get appointments, we would have had to get them weeks ago, because there’s literally no getting through,” Martin said. “There’s just no other option but just to stand out here.”

While he said he regretted waiting until now to renew his passport, Martin hadn’t expected the office would be so backed up.

“The one vacation I’m probably going to have in 10 years kind of hangs in the balance here, and at this point, I don’t care what I have to pay,” he said. “I just want to get in.”

“The one vacation I’m probably going to have in 10 years kind of hangs in the balance here, and at this point, I don’t care what I have to pay… I just want to get in.” – Trent Martin

Post-Muswagon said she’d tried to book an appointment a month in advance, but was on hold for hours and the call was dropped.

On Tuesday, both were told by security guards the office had booked 80 appointments for the day, but walk-ins would be accepted.

The Service Canada website recommends people who need their passport in two days or less try to get a walk-in appointment and anyone else should schedule an appointment in advance.

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS People standing in line at the Service Canada Passport Services at 433 Main Street in Winnipeg.
Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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Updated on Wednesday, March 23, 2022 12:27 AM CDT: Fixes typo.

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