Passports come to those who wait… and wait


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In addition to documents and photos, would-be travellers carried folding chairs and umbrellas to the downtown passport office Thursday, as they prepared for a long wait.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/07/2022 (326 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In addition to documents and photos, would-be travellers carried folding chairs and umbrellas to the downtown passport office Thursday, as they prepared for a long wait.

They’d heard the news about hours-long lineups endured by Canadians at passport offices around the country.

On Thursday, a security guard outside the Main Street office said people began showing up more than an hour in advance of the 8:30 a.m. opening to wait in a line that snaked along two sides of the building.

SEAN KILPATRICK / CANADIAN PRESS FILES Canadians are enduring hours-long lineups at passport offices around the country.

One of those was Brittany Ali, who blamed her situation on procrastination. Her 15-year-old son needed his passport renewed so he can fly to Disney World Saturday. She was prepared to wait all day if it meant his passport would be renewed in time.

“I was here a month ago and (the line) wasn’t all the way around the building, and I went in right away,” she said. At that time, she was able to get passports for her two younger sons.

Ivoun Guirguis said she came in person to get her passport renewed because she’d be heartbroken if she was forced to cancel her trip to Egypt in mid-August to visit her ailing grandmother.

“I haven’t seen her for almost six years now, and she’s so sick now and she wants to see us,” she said.

She was shocked by the lineup, noting a relative got their passport renewed smoothly a year ago.

“I’m going to try and ask for the quick (passport renewal),” she said.

The security guard said despite the long lineups in the morning, people were admitted in groups, and a separate lineup was set up inside the building. By 10 a.m., the outdoor lineup had shrunk.

Currently, the estimated wait time posted on the government of Canada website for Winnipeggers to receive in-person passport services is 30 minutes.

Not everyone has reported a seamless experience. Last week, a Manitoba family was forced to cancel their trip to Europe after they told the Free Press they had spent six months, and multiple days in lineups, attempting to get one child a passport.

The office of Karina Gould, the minister responsible for Service Canada, said Thursday the majority of Canadians who have urgent travel needs do receive their passport in time.

The statement referred to an “enhanced triage system” introduced at passport offices that serves people with urgent travel needs first. Winnipeg, however, has been left out because “the triage protocol was prioritized for locations that have had the worst lines.”

A spokesperson from Employment and Social Development Canada said the government hired 950 staff to handle “passport mail intake, front-line service and direct processing” from July 2021 to May 2022, and said since April 1, Service Canada Centre employees had worked nearly 60,000 hours of overtime.

“The current demand levels are still significant and wait times for intake and processing of passport applications will continue to be long,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Gould told the Globe and Mail it was clear the number of extra workers hired was “not sufficient” to handle the tidal wave of requests.

“If I put myself where we were as Canadians back in February, we weren’t talking about this kind of a surge. We knew it was going to increase and that’s why we took the measures that we did. But I will concede for sure that they were insufficient for what ended up happening,” Gould told the Globe.

From April 1 to the end of June, Service Canada received 808,000 passport applications — nearly 20 per cent more than it received in the same time period in 2019.

Kevin King, head of the Union of National Employees, which represents Passport Canada officers, said Ottawa is scrambling to fix a problem it was aware of more than a year ago.

“We knew there was also going to be a demand for service. Even in the pandemic, we warned them to start staffing up, because they lost a lot of their passport officers.”

King said officials must have been aware that a drop in passport applications would be followed by a surge. Service Canada, for example, started reminding Canadians in 2020 that they might need to renew their expired passports.

Now, Ottawa is seeking helpful from bureaucrats in other departments with past experience in processing passports.

“They were very late to move; they were almost flat-footed,” King said.

“Just because the public believes a switch has been flipped on, it doesn’t mean you completely resume full operations. It takes a while to restore this matter.”

— With files from Dylan Robertson

Malak Abas

Malak Abas

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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