Yellowknife woman calls for better passport services after flying to Calgary to hand-deliver photos

Kassandra DeFrancis with her daughter Frances MacEachern and son Bennett MacEachern. (Carla Ulrich/CBC - image credit)
Kassandra DeFrancis with her daughter Frances MacEachern and son Bennett MacEachern. (Carla Ulrich/CBC - image credit)

Kassandra DeFrancis had to fly to Calgary on her own dime to hand-deliver photos after Passport Canada lost her daughter's passport application.

It had been three months since she applied through the Service Canada office in Yellokwnife, and there were just days left until her family was set to go to the Dominican Republic on vacation on Oct. 23.

"By the time we got to that vacation, I needed that vacation. Just from this whole passport debacle," said DeFrancis.

DeFrancis said she was told the passport would be ready by the end of September and, because she lived in a remote community, it would be expedited. When she didn't receive it, she started to call the office weekly for updates.

"They said, 'We're working on it,' they didn't have any updates for me. I kept telling them this would be a huge burden for me if I had to travel south for this passport," she said.

DeFrancis said a week before their vacation, the Service Canada office in Calgary told her her daughter's passport application and photos had been lost.

Submitted/Kassandra DeFrancis
Submitted/Kassandra DeFrancis

They suggested she bring new photos to the Service Canada office in Yellowknife so they could fax them in and that the passport would be ready for Friday, Oct. 22 — one day before their flight out of Calgary.

This meant someone would have to pick up the passport from the office on Friday and deliver it to the airport on Saturday in between their short layover.

DeFrancis says the Yellowknife Service Canada office was also having trouble with their fax machine and was not able to fax the image properly.

The family deemed it too risky and made the choice for DeFrancis to fly with the photos to Calgary and hand-deliver them to the office.

She was able to get the passport on-site that day.

It was an added mental and financial burden, though, DeFrancis said, especially travelling with two small children. The vehicle rental, hotel room, and flight changes cost the family nearly $1,300.

"I had to take my two kids by myself," said DeFrancis. "Travelling with two small children is very stressful, but I didn't have an option."

They also had to celebrate her daughter's fourth birthday in the hotel room without her father present.

Submitted/Kassandra DeFrancis
Submitted/Kassandra DeFrancis

Mohammad Hussain, a spokesperson for Passport Canada, wrote in an emailed response to questions from CBC that "we deeply regret that the circumstances around this application resulted in such inconvenience and hardship for this Canadian."

He acknowledged that wait times for passports were "far from normal" for some people in the spring and summer, adding that passports for children can have longer processing times due to "the complexity of routine verification and security checks".

Hussain said the photos in the original passport application were not missing, but needed to be reprocessed prior to issuing and mailing the passport.

"Given the expediency required, new pictures were requested to ensure that the passport could be printed locally as the client was travelling to Calgary to pick up the passport," he wrote.

He added since Oct. 3, passport applications have been processed within pre-pandemic service standards.

More options for northerners needed, says DeFrancis

DeFrancis says there should be an office in the N.W.T. that can print passports on the spot, or an option on the application where people can indicate they live in a remote community so their passports can be expedited.

"I more so just wanted to warn other northerners — if you have put in a passport application, really stay on top of it and call constantly to make sure it's being looked at."

The Northwest Territories and Nunavut are the only areas of Canada that don't offer 10-day processing for passports or in-person pickup, though Hussain noted there are some services available in-person in some smaller N.W.T. communities, including Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River and Inuvik.

Submitted/Kassandra DeFrancis
Submitted/Kassandra DeFrancis

In the end, DeFrancis got the passport on time and her family was able to go on their vacation.

"We got on our plane. We made the trip," said DeFrancis. "It did work out in the end but it was stressful."

DeFrancis said she will be filing a complaint with the passport office.