Kitchener-Waterloo

Lineup hours long outside Kitchener, Ont., passport office as Ottawa assures it will get better

The passport office in Kitchener attracts residents from other Ontario cities, including Mississauga, Brampton and Milton, to get that much-needed government document to travel. The minister in charge of Service Canada outlines ways Ottawa is trying to ease the lineups.

Federal Minister Karina Gould says a new triage system is working to cut wait times

Two women sit in camp chairs, forming a line outside a passport office.
Kpenu Chokor is ready for a long day at the passport office in Kitchener, Ont. She recently brought a friend, snacks and a folding chair. (James Chaarani/CBC)

These days, the journey to a fun and relaxing time in another part of the world can begin with a long and tiresome wait at the local passport office.

"I'm extremely disappointed," said Veena Sultan, a Milton, Ont., resident who drove first to the passport office in Mississauga, waited over seven hours in line, then decided to drive to Kitchener to continue waiting in another long line.

"I cannot get an appointment online at all. I've been checking every day," she told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. "The wait times are ridiculous. It made it sound like online that everything is sorted and they're trying to help us. But I don't find it helpful at all."

She tried to beat the line in Kitchener by getting to the office at 5:20 a.m. on Wednesday.

"I've been standing in line outside. It's been pretty cold. I've got a friend here with me so we could take turns [waiting]."

There are long lineups at Passport Canada offices across the country, as tens of thousands of people look to get their hands on travel documents for their summer plans.

Kpenu Chokor got in line Wednesday at 7 a.m., an hour and a half before the office opens.

"I'm attending international school, so I needed to get my passport in before September... I have water, I ordered some food to eat... and I've also got a chair to sit," she said with a laugh.

People waited hours on Wednesday to get into the Kitchener, Ont. passport office. Some came from other parts of Ontario. (James Chaarani/CBC News)

Vishadeep Gill was at the end of a long lineup on Wednesday morning. He drove to Kitchener from Brampton, hoping to find a shorter line outside the office.

"I think [the government] can do a lot better — at least open a new office," he said. "I don't understand how the lines are this long. Is everyone renewing their passport all at once?"

Karina Gould, federal minister in charge of Service Canada, which handles the administration of passports, said that's true in a way.

"We did anticipate there would be a surge in demand, and that's while we started hiring hundreds of people last October, said Gould in an interview with The Morning Edition's host Craig Norris. 

"But we clearly didn't put measures in place that would sufficiently meet that demand, and we didn't anticipate how high it would be and how much volume we would get at the same time."

New triage system

Gould said a new triage system is helping people with looming flight deadlines.

At 7 a.m. managers go through the line outside the Kitchener office. People with travel in the next 12 to 48 hours are prioritized so they can get their documents processed in time for their trips.

  • WATCH | Minister Karina Gould speaks about what Ottawa's doing to improve passport services:

New triage strategy to roll out at passport offices across the country Monday

3 months ago
Duration 9:57
Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould talks to Rosemary Barton Live about Ottawa's new task force to improve passport wait times and backlogs. She says the government anticipated a surge in passport requests, but it was much bigger than expected.

People with travel booked further out, Gould said, will be given one of two options: 

  1. If travel is within a week, you'll be given an appointment to return at a specific time within the next week. 
  2. If travel is within 45 days, you'll be sent to another Service Canada office to submit documents in person. 

Gould said while that may seem unfair to those who are planning ahead for future travel, the reality is many people stuck in lineups now submitted their paperwork weeks or months ago. 

Mailed passports take up to 10 weeks

"What we're seeing now is people who did the right thing — who sent in their application in February, March, April, and who got stuck in the backlog," said Gould.

"Fifty to 60 per cent of the people who are going into lineups right now are people who did send in their application, and for whom at the time when they did send in their application travel wasn't urgent but now ... their travel date is coming up."

The service standard for mailing in a passport application or renewal is 20 days, but it may take up to 10 weeks due to high volumes, said a spokesperson.

Gould said there are plans to open more Passport Canada locations, but that requires bringing more staff on board. So far, 600 have been hired since April, she said. 

No specific timeline was given, but Gould said people can expect to see that happen "in the coming weeks."

LISTEN | CBC's James Chaarani speaks to people lined up outside the Kitchener passport office:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aastha Shetty

CBC journalist

Aastha Shetty can be reached via email aastha.shetty@cbc.ca or by tweeting her at @aastha_shetty

With files from James Chaarani

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