Canadians are getting creative as they try to ease long waits for passports that have dragged on for nearly five months after a surge in post-pandemic travel demand overwhelmed the system.
As of August 11, a total of 1,092,560 passport applications had been filed this year – with more than 550,000 such applications pouring in since April.
Service Canada said it is prioritizing applications from people traveling imminently, increasing staff and processing sites.
Despite all this, applicants say they are spending thousands of dollars traveling to less busy passport offices – or even faking travel plans to speed up the process and eliminate the backlog of 340,000 applications.
Federal officials say they are working to fix the problem.
False trips impact the entire system
Karina Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, said Canadians get their passports on time and there’s no need to “pretend” to travel – booking a flight you don’t plan to take – to be eligible for Passport Canada’s 48-hour rush approval. mechanism.
“It has an impact on the whole system. There are a lot of people who have done the right thing. They sent their passports well in advance. Their requests are impacted by anyone who books a fake trip,” Gould told CBC in a phone interview Friday.
She had heard of this practice, but doubts that it is widespread.
“I would be very disappointed to hear that, because it would put additional pressure on a system that is already under pressure,” Gould said.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, a man whom CBC agreed to call Robert, said he had spent the last 59 days organizing 10 staff members to fill places in lineups for around 500 claimants. passport missing.
He said he made up to $1,000 a day offering this service.
No passport number needed to book many flights online
“Most of my clients book fake flights just to get their passports so they can drive across [the border]“, said Robert.
“You go through more hoops to drive through [the border] than to steal. So what they are doing is just booking a fake flight. It’s usually Toronto to New York or Toronto to Miami, and within 24 hours they cancel it,” he said of his clients.
Several travel agents and Air Canada have confirmed that many flights can be booked online without a passport number, and that full-fare or business class tickets are often refundable.
Other travelers head to Service Canada offices outside the province where the lines aren’t that long, with some citing shorter wait times in Halifax or St. John’s.
St. John’s photographer Robert Young is often called for ID photos.
He said that lately more travelers from other parts of Canada are using passport processing services in Newfoundland.
“We’ve always drawn people from all over the world — like Pangnirtung (Baffin Island) — but now they’re from big cities,” Young said.
The government promises that the fix works
Gould said lines have been reduced with the hiring of 500 new employees, extended hours and the prioritization of candidates with imminent travel plans, within 48 hours.
On July 25, Service Canada expanded passport pickup services, adding five more locations in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia to the existing 29 passport offices.
This measure and others – such as the transfer of application files to one of 300 Service Canada offices upon request – were intended to reduce passport processing times.
But many of those who posted applications last spring say turnaround remains slow.
It’s difficult to get someone on the phone or get accurate status on an application, according to many applicants, including Paula Langley, a Canadian living in the United States who applied for a new passport in April.
Updates hard to get
“The biggest problem is that people can’t get an answer about their passport process. I think part of the problem is technology. They’re probably using outdated software. Other countries tell you allow you to check your status on an online portal,” Langley said.
“It’s even very difficult to get someone on the phone to ask questions. The 1-800 number just gets cut off when the queue of callers gets too long.”
On the Passport Canada website, delivery is promised in 46 days or six and a half weeks. But anyone who needs a passport within two working days can go to specialized sites offering an emergency service, if they have proof of travel.
The government’s plan was to reduce backlogs, but it gave some a chance to skip the queue by booking and then canceling trips.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Leanne MacLeod, who runs Getaways by Leanne in Toronto and offers online passport advice. What doesn’t help, she says, is booking a “fake” trip that you cancel to get travel documents.
“I’ve seen people recommend booking a refundable hotel and then canceling,” she said. “That’s really what’s holding up the whole process right now. For every person that comes forward, one gets hit.”
Taylor Bachrach, New Democratic Party transportation critic, said the fact that people are trying to circumvent the system is proof it doesn’t work.
“It shows how frustrated people are and how far they are willing to go,” Bachrach said.
“If people have to ‘game’ the system to get their documents, that shows how broken the system is.”
Residents of her riding of Skeena Bulkley Valley in northern British Columbia live a 12-hour drive from the nearest passport office.
Bachrach has a staff member who has spent the past few weeks helping voters obtain passports.
Risky family trips
“I have a constituent whose family needed to travel to the United States, and we were able to work with the federal government to arrange for the collection of passports. But he had to incur $2,000 in additional travel expenses to get there. ‘here in Smithers, BC, all the way to Victoria to pick up the passports…. It obviously has a big impact on people.
Bachrach said months of passport chaos are “unacceptable”.
“The increase in demand for passports was entirely predictable. But the Liberals did nothing even though they had months to prepare for the return trip.”
This lack of foresight has left many Canadians apprehensive, with only weeks of summer remaining. Joseph Ivens of Terrace, British Columbia, applied for the renewal of the passports of his two teenagers on April 4.
The family of five saved up for a trip to Mexico for four years. The flight is booked for August 27, but the passports have not arrived.
Minister promises family passports are coming
The father-of-three said he made hundreds of calls, several file transfer requests and appealed to his MP. He may have to travel to Calgary or Vancouver at the last minute to try to obtain travel documents so that the vacation is not lost.
“It’s causing tremendous stress on my family with loss of sleep. It’s breaking us down,” Ivens said. “I have no recourse.”
Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, told CBC on Friday that Ivens would get the travel documents in time.
“He will get his passport. I understand people are stressed, but everyone gets their passport in time,” Gould said.