Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Long lines are a necessary evil for any magical trip to Disney World, but Michelle Irving didn’t expect the longest line she would face for her next vacation to be at the passport office.
The Ottawa mother-of-two has been looking forward to the trip for months — her family’s first since the pandemic began.
When she realized her 23-year-old son’s passport had expired, she figured she had plenty of time to get it renewed.
Now, after waiting two months and spending almost six hours on hold with Service Canada, they still haven’t received the precious travel document.
“They will now have me waiting in line for God knows how long,” reported Ms Irving, who has no choice but to wait outside the passport office with her son for hours if they wish to get the passport before their trip.
With COVID-19 restrictions mostly lifted, Canadians like Ms. Irving seem keen to venture to distant lands for the first time since the pandemic began, but passport delays are keeping some on a leash .
Service Canada says it has seen a surge in demand for passport renewals, which has led to long lines and longer delays for documents.
The federal agency aims to process passports within 20 business days for mail-in applications, but currently the average wait is 26 days.
About 72% of requests are processed on time, but some take much longer.
“I don’t understand why some people get it in a few weeks or a month and some don’t,” Ms Irving said.
Service Canada says it comes down to a huge increase in demand.
Air Canada’s sales soared in March as travel restrictions eased, pushing bookings to 90% of 2019 levels, according to the airline’s quarterly earnings report.
Meanwhile, Service Canada processed nearly 1.3 million passports between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, a sharp increase from the approximately 360,000 passports processed in the previous fiscal year.
The number of calls to the government related to passports has also increased from 500 a day before the pandemic to more than 200,000 a day.
The Government of Canada recognized that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians had other things on their minds and planning to renew their passports was not a priority, the agency said in a statement. However, this decrease in passport applications necessarily leads to a higher than normal increase at a later date, she added.
In anticipation of the surge in applications, the agency said it has created a streamlined renewal process that does not require a guarantor or original documents. It also set up processing centers across the country and hired 500 new officers to process paperwork.
People planning to travel over the next month have been placed at the front of the queue, and the agency says staff are working overtime and weekends to provide as many travel documents as possible. .
Yet MPs say they have been inundated with calls from citizens asking for help and expressing their frustrations.
“Members of my community and across the country line up in the hundreds, waiting for hours to get their new passports,” curator Michelle Rempel Garner said in a statement.
NDP Transportation Critic Taylor Bachrach said residents of his rural B.C. riding can’t even do that because the nearest town is a 12-hour drive away. She said her office has responded to more passport-related inquiries in the past two weeks than in all of last year.
Ms Garner and Ms Bachrach called on the government to do more to strengthen passport offices so travelers can get on the road.
Mrs. Irving just hopes she doesn’t lose her trip.