Passport Delays: Canada Opens New Service Sites

OTTAWA — The federal government is adding new passport service locations across Canada because of a backlog in processing applications.

Social Development Minister Karina Gould announced on Wednesday that people can now apply for and collect passports at Service Canada centers in Red Deer, Alta., Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Trois-Rivieres, Que., and Charlottetown, PEI

That’s in addition to five new locations added in July, and Gould expects to add another seven to nine locations to the program soon.

“I think this is a very important and long-awaited change,” she said in an interview. “Those of us who live in more urban areas don’t realize we’re so lucky to be close to a passport office.”

The additions should make it easier for people outside major centers to access services and reduce stress on offices in regional hubs, she added.

No new federal money was needed to make the change, Gould said. The funds come from a revolving fund consisting of passport fees.

Gould said the current crisis and complaints about long wait times has accelerated work, but she was already looking to bring passport services to more locations before the backlog started to fall.

She visited Sault Ste. Marie in April, before the media started reporting complaints about wait times. Local Liberal MP, Terry Sheehan, told Gould that people in the Sault would have to drive seven or eight hours to Thunder Bay or Toronto to visit a passport office in person.

Until Wednesday, there was no passport office on Prince Edward Island.

“So I’ve already started looking at who’s not around, and how we can fix this,” she said. “And then it got much more acute.”

Nearly 1.1 million applications for new and renewed passports have been submitted since April as pandemic restrictions ease and Canadians resume travel.

More than a quarter of that had not yet been processed at the beginning of August.

Government statistics show that the system is starting to catch up with demand as the gap between the number of passport applications per month and the number of passports issued is narrowing.

Call center waiting times have decreased significantly and “triage measures” have been implemented at 17 passport offices to reduce the person’s headaches.

Gould said 442 new employees have been hired so far this summer and 300 have already been trained and employed.

But there remains a big backlog.

In the first week of August, the number of passports issued within 40 working days of an application fell from 81 percent the week before to 72 percent.

This is largely due to emailed applications.

In the first week of August, 95 percent of personal application passports were issued within the government’s 10-day service standard, a percentage that has remained stable throughout the summer.

For applications by mail, the 20-day service standard was met in only 40 percent of cases at the beginning of August, compared to 53 percent at the end of July. The government also warns that it can take more than 13 weeks to get your passport in the mail.

The aggregate numbers are not substantially better than in June, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to respond to mounting complaints, calling the system’s performance “unacceptable.”

In the week of June 20, 76 percent of passports were issued within 40 working days.

Processing times also don’t factor in waiting to get a face-to-face appointment, and only a limited number of walk-ins are available.

Proof of upcoming travel is required to receive service within two months at offices with a 10-day processing time, including the times announced Wednesday.

Urgent services for people who can prove they need a passport within 48 hours are only available in major urban centers – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Gatineau, Que. and Québec City.

As the backlash over wait times continues, some reports suggest Canadians are making “fake” travel plans to show to passport officers, then canceling their flights once their application is in line.

Gould said she doesn’t know this is a “widespread problem,” but she’s heard about it anecdotally. “I strongly advise Canadians not to do that. It is unfair, unfriendly and unnecessary,” she said.

Gould said during the morning press conference that the government had not predicted how much demand would rise sharply earlier this year. She insisted that an unexpected plethora of applications submitted is the main culprit in the passport delays.

While she would not comment on the details of her deliberations, she said a cabinet committee was formed earlier this year — the Task Force on Services to Canadians — to look at how to ensure services are provided under federal jurisdiction in ” a timely and effective manner” that takes into account the toll of the pandemic.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 17, 2022.

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