Marie Soulier spent four consecutive days queuing outside the passport office at the Guy-Favreau complex in Montreal, waiting to collect her passport. She arrives at 5:30 every morning and leaves when the office closes. She’s still waiting, and her flight leaves for France tonight.
She is just one of hundreds of travelers asking for their passports.
This morning, frustrated, Soulier and a few others in the same boat set about handing out slips of paper for people to register, in the vain hope of organizing queues that seemed to be going nowhere – some meandering through the vast lobby and even out of the building. The police were eventually called to control the crowd.
“We had to fight with administrator so they followed our list because otherwise it was chaos,” Soulier said. “We made sure everyone went home because no one else did.
“These people have no idea what they are doing. They don’t care about us. We are treated like animals,” she said.
“It’s absolutely infuriating, and it needs to stop.”
Geneviève Guilbault, Quebec’s public security minister, called on the federal government to “assume responsibility” for the delays.
“Half of our tax dollars go to the federal government, so they need to be able to put in services — quality in their service to the people,” she said.
The arduous wait for passports is not unique to Montreal. Since the resumption of commercial travel, passport offices across the country have had to deal with “extremely high demand” for travel documents, said Elaine Chatigny, director general of Service Canada for the Quebec region.
During an interview Monday with CBC Montreal let’s goChatigny said before the pandemic, only 5% of all passport requests were urgent requests, such as travel related to death or work, which required a response within 24 to 48 hours.
Although there has been a “sharp increase” in urgent travel in recent weeks, she said that was not the only factor responsible for the backlog.
“Now we see citizens who really did the right thing” by posting their passport applications well in advance, she said. However, the sheer volume of applications overwhelmed passport offices.
“It’s hard to see customers and travelers who legitimately want a passport having to wait like this,” she said. “It’s distressing for them, and it’s distressing for our staff.”
An official in the office of Karina Gould, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, told CBC News that the department has identified 200 federal employees working for Employment and Social Development Canada who could be reassigned to help process passports. , and the Canada Revenue Agency also determines whether one of its employees can be seconded to work.
This is in addition to additional staff the government has already hired this year to process cases during extended working hours.
In January, 1,500 employees worked for the passport program. Since then, Chatigny said, the government has hired 600 workers and redeployed another 600 former passport officers or other clerks, and it is actively recruiting another 600 people.
“Becoming a passport officer is not something that happens with a two-hour training, it takes expertise,” she said.
But Kevin King, president of the National Employees Union, which represents workers at passport offices, said the extra workers are unable to authenticate passports because they have not completed the 12-week training program . Work performed by transferred employees must be validated by a passport officer, he said.
“Pulling people from other departments to help with things like traffic and things like that, with queues in offices, doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.
King said he was concerned about the lack of civility of some people waiting for their passports.
“There have been examples in Montreal where employees have been pushed around, verbally harassed,” he said, adding that some of this harassment took place as workers left their offices.
As their constituents’ frustration mounts, Liberal ministers say Ottawa is doing all it can to meet the demand for passports. Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos described the delays as “totally unacceptable”.
After seeing footage of crowds outside the Guy-Favreau complex, Gould told reporters on Tuesday that his department needed to employ a “new strategy” to deal with the tremendous volume of requests.
“I know Canadians are frustrated. I’m also frustrated to see these images,” she said.
Gould told Radio-Canada on Tuesday evening that the Montreal passport office, which she described as the most difficult situation in the country, will have a new system in place by Wednesday morning. People will be given a number and an appointment to reduce chaos and long lines.
Soulier said she has contacted her local MP, Soraya Martinez Ferrada, but there is no guarantee she will receive her passport in time to visit her grandfather, whom she has not seen in more than two years.
“I haven’t been able to speak to a Passport Canada officer in all this time,” she said. “I feel exhausted.”