Aiden Ho, 7, and his brother Desmond, 5, would have been on their way to Hong Kong to visit their grandmother if only their mother, Janice Ip, had been able to get their passports processed.
Ip says she has been looking online for a month for an appointment at Service Canada centers and passport offices, but hasn’t found one within 50 kilometers of her home in Aurora, Ont. .
“I don’t trust the system right now, but what can I do? ” she says. “It’s kind of a waiting situation.”
Ip is one of many Canadians weighing the odds of committing to travel as Service Canada faces overwhelming demand for passports since pandemic restrictions eased, forcing thousands to line up at centers across the country.
She says she won’t risk losing her family’s personal documents in the post to apply for passports – or spending money on plane tickets she may not be able to use.
And taking the day off to wait in line is not an option.
“We actually don’t have the luxury of queuing just because of the nature of our work. We can’t work from home,” she said.
CBC News asked Families Minister Karina Gould, minister responsible for passport services, how Canadians should approach passport applications in the coming weeks.
Should I post my passport application?
You’d better not post your passport application at this time because of the “huge backlog,” Gould said.
“For some people mail is the only option, and we want to make sure that channel is accessible to them, but the passport system is really designed as an in-person service,” she said.
Gould added that going in person allows officers to review personal documents required for passport applications, such as birth certificates and citizen cards, and return them immediately.
Why is the Passport Program hotline hanging up?
Canadians have complained about not being able to reach Service Canada operators after waiting hours to hear an automated message that hangs up on them.
“Sometimes your cell phone provider, if you’ve been on hold for a while, will drop the call… And it’s not really because of the Government of Canada system, because we’re taking all of these calls,” said Gould.
A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) said 135 agents are currently working at the passport call center and another 40 agents at 1-800-O-CANADA – the general telephone line for information. on federal government services – provide support.
Service Canada implemented a system in mid-April that plays a message when lines are full instead of a busy signal or dropping calls immediately. Previously, callers were automatically disconnected when lines were busy.
The government agency received 949,921 calls between July 4 and July 10.
Gould says Service Canada expects another 500 passport officers to get to work — and 383 citizen service officers who can support them in the passport process — by the end of July.
Will I receive my documents in time for a trip this fall?
If you don’t have urgent travel plans, waiting until September to apply for a passport would be the safest bet.
“The goal is that within four to six weeks we’ve gotten over the backlog hump,” Gould said.
She hopes that by then, people who have posted their applications will finally receive their passports and that Service Canada will be able to meet its regular service standards.
“We need to do better and, quite frankly, modernize the way passport applications are made,” she said. “Some of them [measures to digitize the service] going to take a few weeks and a few months to do because it’s a change in the nature of the process.”
Service Canada has issued 556,796 passports since April 1. It expects to receive between 3.6 and 4.3 million applications in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
My request was not processed in time. How do I get my refund?
You are entitled to free transfer and collection services for your passport if Service Canada does not process your complete application within the service standard, which is 20 business days for mail-in applications and 10 business days for in-person submissions.
To get reimbursement of $50 to $150 for express and rush pickup costs, you can file a claim against the Crown, Gould said.
“Sometimes what happens is people have submitted their application, and if it’s still within the processing time, and they’re asking for rush processing, then they have to pay the expedited fee,” said she declared. “If it’s day 22 or 24, then they shouldn’t have to pay that.”
Service Canada says it is not responsible for financial loss if passports are not delivered in time for your trip. He urges Canadians not to finalize their travel plans until they have their passports.
Passport office or Service Canada Centre: where should I go?
Travelers hoping to leave in about a week should speak with an agent in person at a passport office, which offers on-site printing services, Gould says.
All other travelers should go to a Service Canada centre, which she says is not “passport specific”.
If your departure date falls within 24 to 48 hours, no appointment is required to see a passport officer, according to the ESDC, but you will need to show proof of travel.
What prevents Canada from allowing online renewals?
One of the biggest challenges to streamlining online applications, Gould says, is that most of the applications Service Canada receives are for people who have never had a Canadian passport.
Passport renewals account for only 12 to 15 percent of applications, she said, but the federal government plans to develop an online application system for simple renewals.
“We didn’t have this before, so we have to build it and we have to make sure it works,” she said. “But it’s very active work right now because we want to make the process as transparent as possible for Canadians.”