Long lines as passport offices backlogged in Gatineau

·3 min read
Some travellers lined up outside the Service Canada on Rue Champlain in Gatineau, Que., Wednesday say they arrived hours before the centre opened. (Stephanie Leclerc/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Some travellers lined up outside the Service Canada on Rue Champlain in Gatineau, Que., Wednesday say they arrived hours before the centre opened. (Stephanie Leclerc/Radio-Canada - image credit)

People hoping to get passports have had to wait in long lines outside the Service Canada in Gatineau, Que. Some say they arrived hours before the office opened — others even camped out overnight.

Jamie Liew said she'd lined up at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday to get a passport for her son. It was her second attempt after a long wait the day before.

"I was here yesterday for 7.5 hours and did not get in the building," Liew told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Wednesday.

Her son is supposed to be the ring-bearer at her brother-in-law's wedding in Europe, and Liew said that if they don't get his passport, they both won't go.

"It will be heartbreaking that half my family will go and I will stay home with my son because he simply doesn't have the documentation to go," she said.

Liew said they submitted the application for his passport in April but haven't heard anything.

After making it to the front of the line later on Wednesday, Liew followed up with CBC to say she now has an appointment to pick up her son's passport at the end of the month, and that they should be able to make their trip happen.

WATCH | Pandemic backlog leaves residents waiting hours for passports:

One woman, who plans to travel to Palestine on Saturday, said it's frustrating to have to wait in line to find out what's happening with her application.

"You can't get through on the phone, you send in your submission for status of your passport and you don't hear back," she said. "The only way you can know anything is by waiting for hours."

Others in the line had travelled for hours just to get to Gatineau's Service Canada office.

Geneviève Brassard called the passport office in Laval, Que., chaotic. She told Radio-Canada she arrived to the Gatineau location at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

Brassard mailed in her application in March and has yet to hear anything back. On Wednesday she had lined up to inquire about the status of that application and to submit one for her son.

Ida Sandes left Boucherville, Que., at 3:30 a.m. to arrive by 6 a.m. She leaves on her trip in three weeks.

Passport offices extending hours

Service Canada said a backlog built up during the pandemic.

"We started planning last summer for this ... but the rate of return has at this point overwhelmed us," Evelyne Power, director general of citizen service and passport operations at Service Canada, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Wednesday.

Power said many people didn't renew or apply for passports during the pandemic and are doing so now. She estimated that backlog is about three million people.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

The majority of applications were done in person before the pandemic, but as Service Canada centres began operating at reduced capacity, they started receiving 80 per cent of all applications through the mail.

"The volume simply overwhelmed our capacity," Power said. "What we're trying to do is expand as much as possible the service available to in-person."

Power said the process is "paper-based" and cannot be automated. The most efficient way to get a passport is going in person, she said.

Last July, 950 additional workers were hired to deal with the anticipated demand increase, Power said.

Passport offices are also extending hours of operation and triaging people travelling in the next 24 to 48 hours.

The government has launched a new online tool that displays wait times at passport offices. On Wednesday afternoon, it said the wait time at the Gatineau office was "0 minutes."

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