Race to get passports underway for Arctic Winter Games

Arctic Winter Games races will take place in Alaska in March, but the bigger race that many Nunavut athletes face is getting a passport in order to leave for the Games.

Nunavut MP Lori Idlout has raised the issue in Parliament and has also used her office to expedite the process because Nunavut lacks passport service, but she said she and her team were told to cease and desist.

“Given the gap in Service Canada services [in Nunavut], my office is assisting by accepting [passport] applications and hand-delivering to locations in Ottawa and Gatineau. My team had been ‘red-flagged’ and was told not to assist in this way any more,” Idlout informed Nunavut News on Feb. 22. “My constituents would have to be present in-person, despite them being told about the hurdles to be in-person.

“We received dozens of requests and have helped more than 50 people get their passports, with more awaiting their passports,” she added. “The Prime Minister’s response to my question on Jan. 31 has led to improvements from Service Canada. Service Canada set up a task force and I have met with them to receive updates. But there is very little time before the Games, and I am still concerned with the number of athletes still waiting to get their passports. These athletes earned their way to the games through hard work. It would be incredibly discouraging if some were not able to compete because of bureaucracy.”

In Parliament on Jan. 31, Idlout said, “Families are now forced to pay thousands of dollars to fly down south get their passports expedited or not compete at all. Can the minister ensure that Nunavut gets access to the same services as the rest of Canada?”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded, “Qujannamiik for the question. I know it’s an important one for families across Nunavut and that’s why we’re committed to resolving this issue. I was just up in Nunavut for a historic announcement around devolution a few weeks, working directly with the premier, to demonstrate how we build a stronger future together. I know this is an issue the premier is engaged with, we will look for solutions, we want to make sure our young Nunavut athletes show what they are capable with at the Arctic Games. Go, Nunavut, go!”

Approximately 300 people will travel as part of Team Nunavut to the AWG, according to Hala Duale, a spokesperson with the Department of Community and Government Services.

“Individuals have encountered issues obtaining the correct documents like birth certificates, passport photos, and photo ID to apply for a passport. These vital services are either unavailable in certain communities or subject to significant waiting times for processing and delivery, further delaying the passport application process,” Duale stated.

In response, an emergency task team was put in place by Service Canada in early February. This team is dedicated to processing the applications as quickly as possible.

An aide for federal Citizens’ Services Minister Terry Beech stated that Service Canada is now in constant contact with Mariele DePeuter, the chef de mission for Team Nunavut.

“The team will check the status of each application to determine the next steps required for processing,” said Beech’s office.

“The task team will also determine the fastest and easiest means to deliver the passport, either pick up or mail out options, based on how each application was submitted and what option was requested. Every possible effort is being made to ensure that the athletes receive their passports on time for their travel.”

The AWG will be take place in Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska, from March 10-16. It will draw 2,000 athletes competing in 21 sports, and an expected crowd of 4,000 spectators and tourists.

Kira Wronska Dorward, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunavut News