Birth certificate delays stress parents
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Manitoba’s Vital Statistics Branch is sitting on a stack of more than 5,000 birth certificates that can’t be issued owing to errors on applications, sparking concern over the provincial agency’s ability to alert unsuspecting parents of mistakes.
“They didn’t even care to reach out,” said Catherine, a Winnipeg mother who waited eight months to receive a birth certificate from Vital Statistics for her daughter. “They didn’t feel the need to inform me of the error on my application.”
Catherine, who asked to go by her first name to protect her family’s privacy, said she registered her daughter’s birth with Vital Statistics in April 2022 after filling out the application form in the hospital just eight hours after delivery.
The mother of three said she waited patiently to receive her daughter’s certificate, but finally in August, four months after sending in the paperwork, she followed up by phone.
Catherine said she was told her application was being processed and to continue to wait. At no point during the phone call did the Vital Statistics service representative alert the young mother the delays were due to an error on the registration form regarding the father’s legal last name, she said.
According to the Government Services department, there were 5,214 birth certificate applications in the queue with errors, as of Jan. 22. On average, the agency processes those applications within 5 1/2 months, though some take up to eight months.
An error-free application takes an average of 2.2 weeks to process. The number of birth registrations with errors waiting for processing was not available.
It wasn’t until mid-October — about six months after the documents were submitted to Vital Statistics — Catherine received an email flagging the error, according to correspondence reviewed by the Free Press.
Two weeks later, the mom filed a formal complaint with the Manitoba ombudsman over the delays and lack of communication.
After going in person to provide the necessary identification documents and pay a $30 fee, Vital Statistics issued the birth certificate in November. However, in early January, Catherine received an unexpected letter saying her daughter’s birth registration contained errors, despite making the corrections weeks earlier.
“It’s just gross negligence on their entire process,” she said, adding parents shouldn’t have to repeatedly check with the agency on the status of an application. “I just really want to see change in the process because there are just so many other mothers and fathers out there going through this.”
She worries others are struggling needlessly to get identity documents, which are key to claiming certain government benefits, health coverage and First Nations and Indigenous membership.
“I’m disappointed that the system failed.”
A spokesperson for Government Services Minister Reg Helwer said Vital Statistics is working to “improve initial communication with event registrars and applicants so errors are identified and addressed as early as possible.”
Helwer’s office would not say if there is a service standard to inform applicants of errors, but the agency is actively recruiting staff.
Helwer was not made available for an interview Friday.
Current registration processes are also being reviewed to find efficiencies while ensuring registrations are completed accurately and securely, the spokesperson said.
In a statement, Manitoba ombudsman investigations manager David Kuxhaus said no formal recommendations have been issued concerning Vital Statistics, but the office has fielded citizen concerns related to communication, processing times and service levels.
According to the province, the average turnaround time to process death and marriage certificates with errors is about seven months and four months, respectively.
In all, Vital Statistics has a total of 8,491 applications in the queue that require corrections. Another 2,357 error-free applications are in process with turnaround times of about two weeks.
It would not be unreasonable to expect a letter or call from Vital Statistics flagging errors in registrations and applications within three to four weeks, Catherine said.
“These errors happen, (parents) don’t know, they call, they’re not giving us answers and we’re just waiting,” she said. “It’s like pulling teeth.”
Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Kyle Ross attributed service and communication delays to staffing shortages.
“New parents welcoming a baby into their lives have enough on their plates, worrying about getting proper identification because of understaffing shouldn’t be one of them,” said Ross.”This government needs to make the investments… and they need to do it now.”
NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw placed blame for problems at Vital Statistics on spending cuts by the Progressive Conservative government.
“Several times, the PCs have claimed to have solved the backlog but that’s clearly not the case,” the Fort Garry MLA said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.