London

Long lineups are back at Service Canada in London. Here's what people waiting had to say

Dozens of people lined up outside a Service Canada office on Richmond Street in downtown London Friday morning with four and five hour wait times.

Frustration builds with long wait times amid spiking demands

Five people stand against a building outside
After waiting four and a half hours on Wednesday, this time Christine Strangio brought a chair. She waits with dozens of people outside Service Canada's Richmond St. office in downtown London Friday morning. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Christine Strangio brought a chair to the long lineup outside Service Canada at 457 Richmond Street in London, Ont., on Friday morning, after waiting four and a half hours earlier this week.

"It's very frustrating," said Strangio. "I've been here since about 9:15 a.m. and probably moved three feet."

She's among dozens of people lined up outside the Service Canada office Friday — some with growing frustration after returning day after day this week.

Service Canada is experiencing longer lines at the London location due to an "increase in demand for social insurance numbers with international students arriving in Canada" as well as recent water damage reducing six out of 10 service counters, an Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

When she asked for an appointment, staff suggested Strangio show up earlier, she said.

A woman stands on her phone lined up outside a building
People at the back of the line outside Service Canada were offered appointments on Saturday, bystanders said. (Michelle Both/CBC)

"I've heard people are showing up at 4:30 in the morning," she said. "I can't come that early. I have three children, so I sent them off to school and came as early as I could."

Strangio said she's met people in the lineup waiting for social insurance numbers (SIN) who can't get paycheques without them, only to be told they need to come in person due to application complications. 

'I need this problem solved as soon as possible'

Ambrozie Lucaci had returned for the third time to get official SIN records to verify for his identity for the Ontario Student Assistance Program on Friday. 

He's waited for more than three hours already this week and was sent home due to computer issues, he said. 

A man stands outside a building
Ambrozie Lucaci is at the Service Canada office on Richmond Street for a third time this week after waiting for hours in line. As a Fanshawe College student, he can only wait between classes. (Michelle Both/CBC)

"This problem will be solved in time, but I have [spent] a week already," he said. "I need to solve this problem as soon as possible."

Lucaci was number 91 to arrive at the line Friday morning — but only had until 10 a.m. to wait before heading to class, he said. He thinks more employees need to be hired to meet the demands.

To address wait times, the Service Canada centre in London is extending hours of service as well as promoting online services and advising wait times to those waiting in line, the statement from ESDC said. 

In most cases, the ESDC said SIN applications can be completed online to receive a letter by mail within 15 business days.

In June, people lined up as early as 2 a.m. to beat the rush to renew passports in London. To reduce the backlog, Service Canada hired more than 800 staff across the country since May, but high volume still means process times could take longer than usual.

More than an inconvenience 

For Sehaj Vohra, waiting long hours is more than just an inconvenience. After landing a new job, she has two days to renew her SIN, she said.

"I have a really bad herniated disc. I can't stand for a very long time," Vohra said.

With papers to prove her injury, she requested accommodation from staff but was turned away, she said. 

Two people wearing masks stand together outside
Sehaj Vohra (left) and Petey Straub (right) are frustrated after three attempts to get Vohra's SIN renewed this week. Suffering from a herniated disc, she said standing in line for hours is not good for her back and thinks more needs to be done for accessibility. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Her boyfriend Petey Straub came early Friday morning to reduce her time standing, after three attempts earlier in the week.

"I've been standing in line here since 6:30 in the morning," said Straub. "Unfortunately it's taken us several days to get this whole line thing right because we've repeatedly shown up earlier and earlier only to see that we were not getting in that day."

While they are frustrated, he empathizes with the staff. 

A group of people wait outside a building
Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) says the demand grows for social insurance number applications in late August and early September. (Michelle Both/CBC)

"There's a limited number of people that are essentially seeing an unlimited number of people who need assistance," he said, acknowledging they were booking appointments for Saturday for those at the back of the line. 

However, more still needs to be done, he said. 

"This is a month where a lot of people are arriving in Canada. There's a lot of people who need help to get ready with our system, to be able to live and work and make payments," said Straub. 

"It does not make sense to me that this could not have been foreseen."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Both is a reporter at CBC London. She recently completed the master of media in journalism and communication program at Western University. You can reach her at michelle.both@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @michellelboth.

With files from Sara Jabakhanji

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