CBC Investigates

Raindrops cost B.C. man his passport

A little-known passport office rule will be costly for Wen Sheng Li, who will only get temporary passports after losing one and getting rain drops on another as he was going through a border checkpoint in B.C.

Wen Sheng Li told he will only get temporary passports for 8+ years after losing one & damaging another

Wen Sheng Li got raindrops on his passport and has been told he can only have temporary ones from now on. (Eric Rankin/CBC )

Wen Sheng Li says he had no idea Canadian passports were so fragile — and that the plasticized page protecting the colour I.D. photo isn't all that protective.

He's learned that lesson the hard way, and says his costly mistake should serve as a warning to many other Canadians.

Li's passport sustained water damage on a dark and rainy night at the Aldergrove, B.C. border crossing as he returned from a Boxing Day shopping trip to the U.S.

​"It was like snow and rain mixed" says Li, remembering his return from the U.S. on Boxing Day.

"I rolled down the window probably too early when I was waiting at the border, and then some water dropped on the first couple of pages."

Unfortunately, those pages contain bio-data critical to the integrity of the passport, including the colour photo of the passport holder and a small matching black and white photo on the opposing page.

Li says he didn't realize the passport had gotten wet, put it away and forgot about it — until he opened it a few weeks later and realized there were small water marks on both photos.

Temporary passports could total $800

Now he says passport officials have told him he'll only be eligible for temporary passports every two years for the next eight and a half years, until his damaged passport expires in 2025.

Li says that will cost him $160 each time he renews, for a total cost of $800.

It's all because the damaged passport was a replacement for one that had been stolen from his vehicle 19 months ago.

Finger points to the mark made by rain drops on the passport photo. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC )

According to the government's passport security webpage, "If you have a long history of lost, stolen or damaged passports, you may be refused a passport."

Li says passport officials decided a stolen passport, then a damaged replacement, was "a long history."

The fact that he was a victim of crime when his passport was stolen, and had an RCMP file number associated with the incident, didn't matter.

"I just feel it doesn't make any sense at all", he said. "You know, it's water damage. It's not like I'm trying to do something on purpose, alter it or something."

No comment from Immigration Canada

Li wants fellow Canadians to know their passports are more easily ruined than they might realize.

"[For] anyone who has ever lost or damaged their passport, if it happens a second time, [they] would be like me, in my boat."

CBC News repeatedly contacted Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada, which oversees passports, but it didn't clarify whether Li will be forced to pay for a new temporary passport every two years, as he claims he was told verbally.

The IRCC says it has no record of Li applying for a new passport, nor his conversations with Passport officials.

It says the reissuing of a replacement passport is assessed on a case by case basis.

Complaint filed

Li filed a complaint with Service Canada, the federal institution that provides Canadians with access to services and benefits, over how his case has been handled.

In a letter dated March 14, Service Canada told him his case has been reported to the "program integrity branch" for review.

But Service Canada doesn't sound optimistic, writing that "Depending on the result of the investigation, a limited validity passport may be issued."

Li is frustrated.

"I'm just looking [in] disbelief. Just how can this be, if you lost your passport once, and it happened a second time, you have to get a temporary passport for eight and a half years," he said. 

He looks down at the small watermarks on his I.D. photo.

"It's just such an inconvenience, you know."

CBC INVESTIGATES

About the Author

Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.

With files from Manjula Dufresne