Long lines as passport offices backlogged in Gatineau

People hoping to get passports have had to wait in long lines outside the Service Canada in Gatineau, Que. Some say they arrived hours before the office opened — others even camped out overnight. 

Jamie Liew said she’d lined up at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday to get a passport for her son. It was her second attempt after a long wait the day before.

“I was here yesterday for 7.5 hours and did not get in the building,” Liew told CBC’s Ottawa Morning late Wednesday morning.

Her son is a ring bearer in her brother-in-law’s wedding in Europe, and Liew says if they don’t get his passport the two won’t go. 

“It will be heartbreaking that half my family will go and I will stay home with my son because he simply doesn’t have the documentation to go.” 

Liew said they submitted the application for his passport in April, but haven’t heard anything.

After finally making it to the front of the line Wednesday, Liew followed up with CBC to say she now has an appointment to pick up his passport at the end of the month and that they should be able to make their trip. 

Liew compared this experience to applying for a birth certificate online in Ontario, and receiving it 12 hours later. 

“Why is it that the federal government can’t seem to operate in a more efficient manner?”

WATCH | Pandemic backlog leaves residents waiting hours for passports

Pandemic backlog leaves residents waiting hours for passports

A Service Canada location in Gatineau, Que., saw huge lines Wednesday morning, with some residents arriving before dawn hoping to get passports.

One woman, who’s travelling to Palestine on Saturday said she has met people in line who are from all over the world. 

“You can’t get through on the phone, you send in your submission for status of your passport and you don’t hear back,” she said. “The only way you can know anything is by waiting for hours.”

Others in line travelled for hours to get to Gatineau’s Service Canada. 

Geneviève Brassard called the passport office in Laval, Que. chaotic. She told Radio-Canada she arrived to the Gatineau location at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning. 

Brassard mailed in her application in March and has yet to hear anything back. On Wednesday she had lined up to inquire about the status of that application and to submit one for her son. 

Ida Sandes left Boucherville, Que., at 3:30 a.m. to arrive by 6 a.m. She leaves on her trip in three weeks. 

Passport offices extending hours

Service Canada said a backlog built up during the pandemic.

“We started planning last summer for this … but the rate of return has at this point overwhelmed us,” Evelyne Power, director general of citizen service and passport operations at Service Canada, told CBC’s Ottawa Morning on Wednesday.

Power said many people didn’t renew or apply for passports during the pandemic and are doing so now. She estimated that backlog is about three million people.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising to do more to fix what he calls an ‘unacceptable’ state of affairs at the country’s passport offices. (Robert Short/CBC)

The majority of applications were done in person before the pandemic, but as Service Canada centres began operating at reduced capacity, they started receiving 80 per cent of all applications through the mail. 

“The volume simply overwhelmed our capacity,” Power said. “What we’re trying to do is expand as much as possible the service available to in-person.” 

Power said that the process is “paper-based” and cannot be automated. The most efficient way to get a passport is going in person, she said. 

Last July, 950 additional workers were hired to deal with the anticipated demand increase, Power said.

Passport offices are also extending hours of operation and triaging people travelling in the next 24 to 48 hours. 

The government has launched a new online tool that displays wait times at passport offices. As of Wednesday afternoon, it said the wait time at the Gatineau office is “0 minutes.”

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