Technical glitch stalls some emergency loans for stranded Canadians

An email from Global Affairs Canada informs some stranded travellers that a "technical issue" prevented some applications for emergency loans from being processed. The loans for up to $5,000 are intended to help Canadians abroad book flights and cover expenses.

Global Affairs Canada email informs stranded travellers of lost loan applications

The Canadian government says it continues to work around the clock to facilitate flights to bring home Canadians who are stranded abroad. An emergency loan program to help those people pay for flights or necessities has experienced a technical issue that prevented a number of the applications from being processed. (Twitter/Global Affairs Canada)

Some Canadians who are stranded abroad and desperately waiting for an emergency loan from the federal government have been told by Global Affairs Canada that a "technical issue" stopped some loan applications from being received, and thus processed, over an eight-day period from March 26 to April 3.

The repayable loan of up to $5,000 is intended to help cash-strapped citizens book flights back to Canada and pay for basic expenses, such as hotels and food, until they can return home. Some travellers have reported maxing out their credit cards on flights that got cancelled, and being unable to pay hotel bills. 

Loan applicants must prove that they have no other source of funds and that they had a plan to return home that got disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I feel trapped," said Montreal resident Pepe Baiamonte, 36, who is stuck in Mexico. He applied for the emergency loan last week in order to pay for a flight home to Canada. He didn't receive any confirmation, so today he called the emergency response centre in Ottawa. 

"I spoke with this lady, and she told me they have my information but it's as if they didn't submit it," Baiamonte said.

Pepe Baiamonte, 36, applied for an emergency loan from the Canadian government to try to book a flight home from Mexico. (Submitted by Pepe Biamonte)

The Canadian government says it has so far paid out $2.5 million in loans to 775 recipients through the COVID-19 Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad. It's processing roughly 1,600 more loan applications, according to Global Affairs.

However, it's unknown how many applications were blocked by the technical issues.

Some travellers should reapply

Two travellers forwarded identical emails to CBC News that they received from Global Affairs on Friday.

"Earlier today, we discovered and fixed a technical issue which resulted in some web forms not being properly transmitted following submission," the emails said. "Web forms submitted between March 26, 09:15 (EDT) and April 3, 16:30 (EDT) may have been impacted and not received by our teams."

The email also said that anyone who applied for a loan but did not receive a response from a consular official should resubmit an online form. People who received a response do not need to resubmit their loan application.

CBC News requested more information from Global Affairs, but did not receive a response. Its most recent statement to the media did not mention the technical issue.

Security concerns

Natasha Briggs, 27, who was stranded in Guatemala for a couple of weeks and applied for the loan, is worried that the technical issue may have jeopardized the security of her personal information.

"How did you lose my information? And who has it? There was debit card information, there was bank account information, passport information ... I hope it didn't get into the wrong hands," Briggs said.

Briggs had rushed to the airport at the end of March to try to get on a government-organized repatriation flight, but quickly discovered that she didn't have enough room on her credit card to pay for the plane ticket. A consular affairs worker helped her apply for the loan in the airport, then let her get on the plane back to Canada. 

This view of an empty Ottawa airport on April 3 shows the effect of border restrictions and cancelled flights due to the coronavirus outbreak. Some Canadian travellers are still struggling to get home. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Now under mandatory self-isolation for 14 days in Victoria, B.C., Briggs considers herself lucky that she got a flight home, but she still wants to know the status of her loan application.

"That loan is supposed to pay for the flight, and eventually I'm sure they're going to contact me and tell me that I have to pay them back somehow, I mean, I hope. I don't want to find out past the deadline that I owe the government with interest."

Briggs also said that other people stranded abroad who can't even afford food need the money much more urgently, 

Global Affairs said its emergency call centre responded to 837 calls and 3,816 emails from Canadians this past Saturday alone.

About the Author

Bonnie Allen

Senior Reporter

Bonnie Allen is a senior reporter for CBC News based in Saskatchewan. Before returning to Canada in 2013, Allen spent four years reporting from across Africa, including Libya, South Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. She holds a master's in international human rights law from the University of Oxford. @bonnieallenCBC