Passport backlog leaving travellers in limbo

Emma Thom and her family are due to travel to the United Kingdom to attend a funeral. The trip nearly didn't happen, even though Thom submitted her children's passport applications in April.

Government hiring more officers, introducing triage system to expedite process

People line up at a Service Canada passport office in Laval, Que., on June 21, 2022. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Emma Thom finally received her two children's passports Friday afternoon, less than 48 hours before the family is due to travel to the United Kingdom to attend a funeral.

The trip nearly didn't happen, even though Thom submitted the applications in April.

Getting the travel documents cost the family hundreds of dollars, not to mention hours in line at the Service Canada outlet in Gatineau, Que., only to be told earlier this week that their original applications had somehow vanished.

They are not looking after us in any way.- Emma Thom

"The man on the phone told me he was sorry, but they had no idea where my passport information had gone," Thom told CBC News on Wednesday. "They had lost it, and I was to go and fill out all the forms again." 

Expediting that process cost the family roughly three times what they'd already spent on the original applications.

Employment and Social Development Canada has been dealing with a massive backlog of passport applications — one that's been growing steadily ever since pandemic travel restrictions were loosened.

Thom noted that when she visited the Service Canada office in person on Thursday, only three of the nine kiosks there were staffed.

"They are not looking after us in any way," she said.

More officers, triage system

Speaking to CBC's Ottawa Morning on Friday, Karina Gould, minister of families, children and social development, said the department is responding by adding more staff. 

"What we're doing now is hiring and training passport officers because we have hundreds of thousands of applications that are in the system that need to be processed by a passport officer, and they're the only ones that can do that," she said.

To help manage the sudden surge, the department is also introducing a new triage system. At 7 a.m., managers will now begin meeting with clients outside Service Canada offices to determine whose travel needs are most urgent, and assign priority cases accordingly. 

People planning to visit Service Canada outlets to apply for a passport are advised to bring proof of their travel plans with them. Those due to travel within 24 hours will be given top priority, followed by those scheduled to depart within 48 hours.

The triage system will be implemented in Montreal, Quebec City, Gatineau, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area, as well as Surrey and Richmond, B.C.

Gould acknowledged that while Thom's family "did the right thing" by getting their passport applications in early, others are applying much closer to their departure date.

She said the new triage system is being implemented "to make sure that people who are travelling urgently can get their passports on time, whether that's 24 or 48 hours."


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