Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press
Posted on Wednesday, August 17, 2022 at 12:58 pm EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 17, 2022 3:25 pm EDT
OTTAWA – The federal government is adding new passport service locations across Canada as the application processing backlog continues.
Social Development Minister Karina Gould announced Wednesday that people can now apply for and pick up passports at Service Canada centers in Red Deer, Alta., Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Trois-Rivieres, Quebec and Charlottetown, PEI.
That’s on top of the five new locations added in July, and Gould hopes to add another seven to nine locations to the program soon.
“I think this is a really big and long-awaited change,” he said in an interview. “Those of us who live in more urban areas don’t realize how lucky we are to be near a passport office.”
The additions should make it easier for people outside of the big centers to access services and relieve stress on offices in regional centers, he added.
No new federal money was required to make the change, Gould said. The resources come from a revolving fund made up of passport rights.
Gould said the current crisis and complaints about long wait times have sped up the work, but he was already considering bringing passport services to more locations before they piled up.
He visited Sault Ste. Marie in April, before the media began reporting complaints about wait times. Local Liberal MP Terry Sheehan told Gould that people in Sault had to drive seven or eight hours to Thunder Bay or Toronto to visit a passport office in person.
As of Wednesday, there was no passport office on Prince Edward Island.
“So I was already starting to see who is not around and how we can fix this,” he said. “And then he got a lot sharper.”
Nearly 1.1 million applications for new and renewed passports have been filed since April as pandemic restrictions loosen and Canadians resume travel.
More than a quarter of them had not yet been processed as of early August.
Government statistics show that the system is beginning to catch up with demand, as the gap between the number of passport applications each month and the number of passports issued is narrowing.
Call center wait times were significantly reduced and “triage measures” were implemented at 17 passport offices to mitigate in-person headaches.
Gould said 442 new employees have been hired so far this summer and 300 are already trained and working.
But there is a long delay.
In the first week of August, the number of passports issued within 40 business days of an application fell to 72 percent from 81 percent the previous week.
That’s largely due to mail-in applications.
During the first week of August, passports for in-person applications were issued within the government’s 10-day service standard 95 percent of the time, a rate that has remained constant throughout the summer.
For mail-in requests, the 20-day service standard was met only 40 percent of the time in early August, down from 53 percent in late July. The government also warns that it can take more than 13 weeks to receive your passport in the mail.
The overall numbers are not materially better than they were in June, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to respond to mounting complaints and called the system’s performance “unacceptable.”
The week of June 20, 76 percent of passports were issued within 40 business days.
Processing times also do not take into account the wait for an in-person appointment and only a limited number of walk-ins are available.
Proof of upcoming travel is required to obtain service within two months at offices with 10-day processing times, including those announced Wednesday.
Urgent services for people who can prove they need a passport within 48 hours are only available in the largest urban centers: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Gatineau, Quebec, and Quebec City.
As backlash over wait times continues, some reports suggest Canadians are making “fake” travel plans to show to passport officers, then canceling their flights once their application is in the queue.
Gould said he’s not aware it’s a “widespread problem” but has heard of it anecdotally. “I strongly discourage Canadians from doing that. It’s unfair, it’s cruel and it’s unnecessary,” he said.
Gould told the morning news conference that the government was unable to predict how much demand would spike earlier this year. She insisted that an unexpected glut of mail-in applications is the main culprit behind passport delays.
Although he did not comment on the details of his deliberations, he said a cabinet committee was adjourned earlier this year, the Task Force on Services to Canadians, is looking at how to ensure that services under federal jurisdiction are provided in “a timely and effective manner” that takes into account the cost of the pandemic.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 17, 2022.