Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promises to do more to address what he calls an ‘unacceptable’ situation at passport offices across the country which have been overwhelmed in recent days as thousands of Canadians scramble to get their hands on documents necessary before traveling abroad.
Speaking to CBC Radio The House in an interview to air on Saturday, Trudeau said he understands there’s a lot of anxiety among potential travelers right now.
“This situation is unacceptable,” he said. “There is real concern among families dealing with these things and we need to intervene.”
Pressed by host Chris Hall to say why the situation is so precarious when it was obvious to most observers that demand for passports would increase with the lifting of COVID-related travel restrictions, Trudeau said the government had hired over 600 passport workers in January and are ready to hire even more to help reduce the backlog.
“There’s a lot of disruption as the world comes back from COVID. But that’s why we’re working night and day to make sure people get their passports,” Trudeau said.
“We process tens of thousands of them every week. We make sure to deliver what people need and want from their government as quickly as possible.”
With slower-than-usual processing times, many Canadians choose to obtain a passport or replace an expired passport by visiting one of the 35 passport offices across the country that accept applications.
The government launched a new online tool to tell people how long they can expect to see an agent to process a standard passport application or an “urgent” or “express” request for people traveling in the near future.
On Wednesday, wait times exceeded five hours in many places.
In Ottawa, the website told candidates they can expect to wait nearly seven hours, which means some people in line won’t be seen until after the office closes at 4 p.m.
Limited office hours and long lines have forced some travelers to camp overnight to score a time slot when these offices open at 8:30 a.m.
“Just pure anarchy”
Frustrated travelers have taken to Google Maps to voice their grievances via online notices about passport offices.
“It was a horrible experience! We went to apply for the passport around 7am and the queue was already too long,” Taghrid Chahine said in a recent article about their experience with the only passport office in Istanbul. Ottawa.
“I felt bad for the moms who waited with their children for hours and weren’t served!”
“Shame on every man, woman and child who created this monstrous system,” said fellow Ottawa-area traveler Luke McCutcheon. “No appointments, no tickets when queuing – just pure anarchy.”
“The wait times are ridiculous. You have to take the whole day off to line up and wait and wait and wait,” Eireann Aldrich said.
“This government is a joke,” said Emma Ayetor, who said she waited all day before being turned away when the office closed at 4 p.m.
In Montreal on Tuesday, the situation at the Guy-Favreau complex’s passport office became so chaotic that police had to intervene to control the crowd and more than 750 people lined up to be seen by an officer.
‘Passport office can take care of it,’ says minister
Families Minister Karina Gould, minister responsible for passport services, said on Wednesday that while there may be problems at some passport offices, others are working very well.
“What we see in other parts of the country are, yes, queues before the passport office opens, but those queues move throughout the day and people are seen,” said she told reporters.
“It’s a lot, but the passport office can handle it. They’re stressed, they’re tense, but they can,” she said.
Asked if the federal government had let Canadian travelers down by subjecting them to such long waits, Gould said that Ottawa “expected there would be an increase in demand,” but that it didn’t. didn’t expect so many passport applications to arrive at the same time.
“What we didn’t anticipate was that all of the applications would come in at the same time in March and April, and also that so many of the applications would be new applications and not renewals,” Gould said.
She noted that 85% of applications are new, which takes longer to process than renewals.
Passport training can take 15 weeks
She said they were adding staff, but noted that as passport processing is a sensitive issue with security considerations, the training program for new workers can take up to 15 weeks.
In January, 1,500 employees worked for the passport program.
Since then, the government has hired 600 workers and redeployed another 600 former passport officers or other clerks, and is actively recruiting another 600, according to government data provided to CBC News.
A spokesperson for Gould said the department has identified 200 federal employees working for Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) who could be reassigned to help with passport processing, and the Canada Revenue Agency is also determining whether the one of its employees may be seconded to work.