Despite Ottawa unveiling actions that were meant to get new passports into the hands of Canadians quicker, wait times are still “far from acceptable,” said Karina Gould, Minister of Children, Families and Social Development, on Monday (June 13).
The time it takes to renew a passport has soared to frustrating levels as the pent-up demand for travel takes hold – and passport offices are still dealing with a surge of applications.
Would-be travellers requiring a new passport are reportedly standing in lines for hours and hours – so much so that the government’s website now includes estimated wait times for visits to offices to help applicants plan ahead.
In some locations, the backlog is so bad, passport seekers are camping out at offices overnight to secure a spot in line.
The site, which is updated three times a day, on Monday showed a four hour and 45 minute-wait at an Ottawa office location, a three-hour wait in Toronto, and a six hour and 45-minute wait in Vancouver, according to the Canadian Press.
“We’re experiencing very high call volumes right now. Wait times are longer than usual. If you do not have travel plans in the next two weeks, we suggest you wait to call us,” reads a statement on the government’s website.
The Government of Canada says 72 per cent of Canadians who apply for a passport using any method will receive it within 40 business days, while 96 per cent of individuals who submit their application in person will get their new passport within 10 business days.
"These wait times are far from acceptable, and we know many people have been put in very difficult and stressful circumstances,” stated Minister Gould. “That is why since this challenge first arose, I have been adamant that my department makes it a top priority to address the situation and improve service.”
Gould noted that “we are examining and implementing every possible option we can to expedite intake and processing of applications to help Canadians get their passports in a timely way, without compromising integrity.”
This includes potential policy changes to simplify the passport program, as well as further automation, she said.
Overtime & more hiring
The remarks come as Service Canada Centre employees are working overtime and on weekends, according to the Minister.
In many locations, Service Canada has also adapted hours of service for clients who cannot be accommodated during regular hours.
"In addition, Service Canada is continuing to hire and train more staff. Already, Service Canada has hired approximately 600 new employees this year, and will continue to hire up to 600 additional employees, along with continued internal reassignment of staff to work on delivery of passport services,” Minister Gould said.
Last month, federal officials outlined a plan for tackling the country’s congested passport renewal process.
Actions included introducing a simplified renewal process for any adult passport issued in the last 15 years and launching an appointment booking tool at eservices.canada.ca/reservation that directs clients to the right location for service.
Canada is also “not in a unique situation,” Minister Gould added.
“Several of our international counterparts are also experiencing delays in processing and issuing passports,” she said.
Australia's passport processing times, for example, are six weeks, Gould said, while it takes 10 weeks to get a passport in the United Kingdom and 11 weeks to get one in the United States.
The demand for passports is much higher this year compared to 2021 when border restrictions and coronavirus fears slowed cross-border activity.
In April 2021, approximately 69,000 applications were received, compared to 261,000 applications in April 2022.
Since April 1, 2022, Service Canada has issued 210,219 passports and the department expects to receive 4.2 million passport applications during the 2022–23 fiscal year.