‘Stressed out of her mind’ Family of city senior seeking passport renewal furious with ‘incompetent’ service at Winnipeg office

A Winnipeg family is accusing Passport Canada of callous indifference and a lack of respect in how it processed a senior’s passport renewal, leaving her sobbing.

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A Winnipeg family is accusing Passport Canada of callous indifference and a lack of respect in how it processed a senior’s passport renewal, leaving her sobbing.

“My mother is beyond stressed out of her mind. At 89 years old, it just isn’t fair,” said Brenda Halprin. “It should have been done better.”

For months, her mother Shirley has been planning on taking part in a shopping trip to North Dakota, part of an annual tradition the COVID-19 pandemic had put on ice.

Her family members mailed in an application in June and received it Tuesday, with a note saying they had botched the credit card information by mismatching the year and date.

The next day, son-in-law Phil Halprin went to the Winnipeg passport office at 433 Main St. to rectify the issue. He had a signed note from his mother-in-law, authorizing him to submit the application, which they recall using in past years.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Brenda and Phil Halprin have had unprecedented difficulties assisting Brenda’s 89-year-old mother in getting a passport.

The staff reviewed the application and said it would be easier to fill out a renewal form instead of a request for a new passport.

Phil returned a second time Wednesday with all the documents and the updated form. This time, the clerk consulted with a manager and said the signed letter wasn’t enough and he would need to come back with the applicant, 89-year-old Shirley.

On their third visit, together, on Thursday, another clerk said the photos taken in February were expired, less than a week past the six-month cut-off.

At this point, Shirley begged the staff to use the older photos, saying her appearance hasn’t changed in that time. The staff wouldn’t budge, but said Phil could return alone with the fresh photos.

The pair visited a nearby shopping concourse trying to find a photo studio, before giving up and driving to a place in West Kildonan. Shirley was in tears afterward.

“It’s very frustrating; they should have been a little more helpful.” – Phil Halprin

On the fourth visit to the passport office Thursday, Phil successfully submitted her application.

“It’s very frustrating; they should have been a little more helpful,” said Phil, a retired federal public servant who is embarrassed to see this level of customer service.

“The government is trying as hard as possible to control costs, and they’re cutting in the wrong places,” he argued.

Immigration Canada wrote Friday that it can’t comment on specific cases, but in general, someone can process another person’s application if they live at the same address or have written permission.

It said bureaucrats “must also ensure that program integrity is maintained throughout the application, printing and issuance process.”

In late June, the Trudeau government assigned a task force with weekly reporting to get airport, passport and immigration queues under control.

“The government is trying as hard as possible to control costs, and they’re cutting in the wrong places.” – Phil Halprin

However, the unions most involved in passport processing have said they haven’t been approached by this task force, and have warned government officials of a 2022 surge in people with expiring passports as COVID-19 cases dropped.

A March 2020 internal report also warned that the looming expiry of the first round of passports valid for 10 years would put more pressure on the system.

The system might be turning a corner. Service Canada statistics suggest demand for passports has gradually declined since May, with an uptick in bureaucrats working on the issue.

What confused the Halprin family the most is that staff reviewed Shirley’s application multiple times without noticing the expired photos or written note. They argue the online information and printed forms don’t make it clear how to delegate a relative to submit applications.

“There is a huge lack of respect,” Brenda said.

“They were incompetent in not going through it; every trip they found something different.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

On the fourth visit to the passport office Thursday, the Halprins successfully submitted the application.

To Brenda, it’s no wonder the passport system has become so backlogged, when staff make people visit multiple times. After mailing in the application in June and having her relatives make multiple visits, Shirley has asked to call the trip off if the application they submitted Thursday isn’t accepted.

“I’m still incredibly stressed by what everyone had to go through, including my mom,” said Brenda.

She reached out to the Free Press to warn people about the service at the office, especially those who want to visit on behalf of elderly relatives.

“We all deserve to be treated better, especially our senior citizens that built our great country of Canada.”

Wait times at the Winnipeg office have improved after weeks of unflattering news reports of missed vacations and people yelling in the office.

Earlier, Canadians were photographed queuing up for hours outside passport offices, sometimes sleeping in tents overnight.

An online ticker showed a two-hour wait Friday morning at the Winnipeg office that had dropped to a half-hour by midday, while building staff have suggested Wednesdays and Thursdays tend to be the least busy.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Saturday, August 13, 2022 11:24 AM CDT: Updates reference to June from March

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