Hamilton

People in Hamilton face long, long waits for passport renewals as summer travel plans begin

As summer travel plans begin, people in Hamilton are facing long waits to get their passports renewed. On Thursday morning, at least 40 people were waiting under the rain outside Service Canada on Upper James Street before it opened at 8:30 a.m.

'It's pretty ridiculous,' says Hamilton woman. 'They need a better system'

People were lining up outside Service Canada as early as 5 a.m. on Thursday's rainy morning to get their passport. (Aura Carreño Rosas/CBC)

As summer travel plans begin, people in Hamilton are facing long waits just to get their passports renewed. 

On the Thursday morning before the long weekend, at least 40 people were waiting under the rain outside the Service Canada office on Upper James Street before it opened at 8:30 a.m..

Mark MacGillivary was one of the first in line. He got to the Service Canada office at five in the morning.

"My wife submitted our son's passport eight weeks ago, and it still hasn't gotten processed," he told CBC Hamilton. 

He said his family paid $45 to speed things up.

"They called us on Monday and said that it was processed. My wife had called on Tuesday and waited on hold for two hours to see, and it still wasn't processed."

"We need to be in Florida on Saturday. So, now we're going to have to start the whole process again for an expedited passport within 48 hours."

If MacGillivary is not able to get his son's passport by Saturday, he might be forced to cancel his first vacation with his son.

"COVID kind of slowed everything down and [I] understand, but I wish the process could have been a bit easier."

"I don't know why they can't get more staff or be able to speed up the process. It would be more efficient than sitting outside of their office for three hours just to talk or process a passport."

Marie Terrien of Employment and Social Development Canada said 85 per cent of Canadians are receiving their passports 40 business days after applying, while 97 per cent of those who apply in person receive their passports in less than 10 business days. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Delays affecting citizens across Canada

In April, the Federal Government warned citizens that a massive surge in the number of Canadians applying for passports was causing long wait times across the country.

Citizens have been reporting long lines with some bringing lawn chairs, blankets and food as they sit outside Service Canada offices.

"It is insane to think of spending precious work hours standing in the line but on the day I went, those that were first in line had to arrive around 5am with blankets and chairs."​​​​​- Nathan Andrews

For McMaster professor Nathan Andrews, that wait was seven hours long.

Andrews said he was "very surprised" he had to wait in line from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. to get his child's passport.

"I mean, we are talking about Service Canada. How is it that they cannot hire people especially given that many customer service kiosks were empty once I got in," he said. "It is almost like they are now deliberately forcing everyone to wait for hours and then pay the express fee once they are about to travel within a matter of days. It is quite bizarre!"

Then, after waiting all that time, he says the express service he was looking for was not available. 

"My advice for anyone traveling is to apply early, be willing to wait for up to 8 hours but most importantly, arrive early (by 8am at least) if you really want to make the cut for the day."

He also advised others to bring food or be prepared to order, as it is "impossible" to leave the line once you arrive. 

"It is insane to think of spending precious work hours standing in the line but on the day I went, those that were first in line had to arrive around 5am with blankets and chairs."

In Hamilton, there are two Service Canada locations, one on 700 Queenston Road and another on 1565 Upper James Street. 

Nancy Janeiro had to go to both because, she says, she was "misinformed" by Service Canada.

When she missed her flight, after realizing she couldn't travel with a passport that is expiring within three months, she started frantically trying to get it renewed.

"They sent me to the Queenston location," said Janeiro. She was in line at 6:30 a.m. 

"I had been waiting there for about a half-hour [when] I just had this feeling to double-check my phone just to make sure I was at the right place for an urgent passport."

But, urgent passports aren't offered there she says, only at the Upper James location. When she realized this, she left and arrived at Upper James at 7:15 a.m.. By that time the line was already at least 20 people deep.

"It's pretty ridiculous. I mean, they need a better system."

"It's cold. It's raining. People are tired. [I'm] just hoping it gets resolved, that the turnaround time is worth the waiting time in the line, and hoping I can make my trip."

Canadians are receiving passports between 10 and 40 business days: official

Last week, the federal government announced Service Canada has hired 600 new employees "specifically to support the processing of passport applications."

Marie Terrien of Employment and Social Development Canada  said Ontario has a hiring objective of 130 employees this year.

In addition, they opened more passport-dedicated counters in over 300 centres and opened additional processing hubs.

"Service Canada continues to hire and train more employees, and teams at the passport office. Processing and call centres are working overtime every day and on weekends to increase processing capacity," said the release.

"This includes opening select Service Canada Centres on Saturdays for passport service."

They also started an online booking system for citizens to access 24/7 that "directs them to the right location to submit their passport applications."

Terrien said 85 per cent of Canadians are receiving their passports 40 business days after applying, while 97 per cent of those who apply in person receive their passports in less than 10 business days.

"We encourage Canadians to make sure that they have a passport before making travel commitments."

Terrien added that citizens who need a passport within three to 25 business days must apply in person and have proof of travel or need. The same applies to those who need a passport within two business days, but should seek an office offering urgent pickup services.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aura Carreño Rosas

Freelance reporter, CBC Hamilton

Aura Carreño Rosas is a Hamilton-based freelance journalist from Venezuela, with a passion for pop culture and unique people with diverse journeys.

With files from CBC News

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