François Gamache knew that getting his passport in Montreal would be almost impossible.
He went to Chicoutimi, 200 kilometres north of Quebec City, on the advice of a Transportation Canada agent, where he waited 30 hours. No luck.
Then he decided to drive to central New Brunswick, where he finally got a passport in Fredericton after waiting only three hours.
A passport crisis has been raging in several Servie Canada offices across the country, especially in Quebec, where people have been forced to wait for hours without obtaining the essential travel document. In Montreal, police are supervising the queue at one centre.
Gamache has to leave Thursday for a three-week trip to France to bury his father-in-law. Like thousands of Canadians, he couldn't leave the country without renewing this passport.
On Saturday, he contacted a Transport Canada officer for instructions on how to obtain a passport.
"She told me that in Montreal it was almost impossible for my file to be processed in a week," he said in French to Radio-Canada
The agent then suggested he try Chicoutimi, so he hit the road, reaching the community 200 kilometres north of Quebec City on Sunday night.
Arriving at the Service Canada on Monday at 6 a.m., he quickly realized he'd been given some wrong information. He found out that passports for travellers leaving the country within 48 hours would be given priority.
Still, with only five days before his trip abroad, he decided to take his chances and stay in Chicoutimi, hoping his turn would come.
30 hours later
After spending hours in the waiting room, Gamache went to a hotel in the evening for a nap.
Early Tuesday morning, he again entered the waiting room, and was greeted by an unwelcoming environment, he said.
"In Chicoutimi we were made to feel really bad because we came from Montreal, but at the same time, I was told that in Montreal they would not process my file. … I am a Canadian citizen, I pay taxes, so should I feel bad about going there?"
There were elderly people who spent 48 hours there, in Chicoutimi. It was like 5 degrees overnight, it was really cold. - François Gamache
Gamache and the others in the waiting room were also met with an announcement from an agent on site that destroyed any hope.
"Even tomorrow … we will not be able to process them, we advise you to [cancel] your trip," the agent said.
"People were in tears. It was panic," Gamache said.
One of his clients suggested via remote communication that he apply for his passport in Fredericton, a drive of almost 800 kilometres.
"[He] told me that he had heard that in New Brunswick,it could be processed."
After waiting 30 hours in Chicoutimi, Gamache decided to get behind the wheel again and find out if the neighbouring province would be any better.
After a night's sleep in Temiscouata to regain strength, Gamache arrived at the passport office in Fredericton on Wednesday morning.
The waiting room looked empty.
"It's like being in another country … The security guards were super friendly," he said. "It's like exceptional customer service versus being treated like cattle in Chicoutimi."
He said he waited to three hours before receiving his passport
"I was really exhausted and I was even very emotional. I fought so hard to get it. … My trip is definitely saved."
Gamache estimated he spent nearly $1,000 on hotel, food and gasoline during this trip.
As an owner of a business, he was able to handle his communication with his laptop during this whole misadventure, but not everyone is that lucky, he said.
A national political crisis
Gamache is not the only one to have recently been confronted with a bureaucratic maze in order to obtain his passport.
With health restrictions lifted and the summer season underway, there are large crowds at Service Canada offices.
Last week, Karina Gould, the federal minister of families, children and social development, said 1,200 employees had been hired or were in the process of being hired to manage the flood of requests surging through Service Canada offices. .
She said there will be no compensation for travellers forced to cancel their plans.
There was also talk of borrowing about 200 employees from the Canada Revenue Agency, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Global Affairs Canada.
Gamache was critical of how Service Canada has managed things, saying the passport problem was predictable.
"The Trudeau government is well aware that Service Canada has been going all out for years," he said. "In the end, it was logical that this crisis was going to happen, it was foreseeable."