Northern Ontario NDP MPs increasingly concerned with passport delays

The Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing NDP riding association has nominated Carol Hughes to stand for re-election for what would be her fifth term in AMK. MP Hughes was first elected to represent AMK federally in 2008.

OTTAWA—After years of pandemic-related travel restrictions, Canadians are looking to travel, but are still finding themselves held back by passport delays. According to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, the backlog mayhem will not be cleared until the end of summer at least, which hurts those without access to Passport Canada offices disproportionately, says NDP MP’s Carol Hughes and Charlie Angus.

“The process itself in trying to acquire a passport is strenuous on people,” MP Hughes told The Expositor. “The ministry needs to get a handle on all of this.”

“In Northern Ontario, individuals are having to readjust their travel plans by cancelling their flights from regional airports and having to travel long distances to either Toronto, Thunder Bay or Ottawa to personally pick up passports in time for international travel,” said MP Hughes, MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing.

“Many are incurring additional costs and are extremely stressed by the process, and the anxiety increases even further when they are being told that the passport will only be ready the day before, or the day of, their travel.”

The delays in processing have resulted in days-long wait times in major centres, but those in Northern and rural communities are unable to reach Service Canada agents by phone and their only recourse is to contact the offices of their local MP so they can have their passports fast-tracked as their travel dates near.

“The Service Canada representative in Sudbury has said they are going to have an officer on hand to do triaging,” said MP Hughes. “We have heard from a woman in Blind River who, with her son and his sister, were travelling to Barcelona, (Spain). They had applied for their passports in April-May and submitted their applications at the Service Canada office and were told they would receive them by June 22. It’s not here and they are supposed to be travelling on Tuesday. They were then told they would have to go to Toronto to pick them up. So, they had to cancel their flight from Sudbury (to Toronto).” The travellers were then told they would have to go to Thunder Bay to pick up their passports and then were called back and told no, the passports weren’t there and that they would have to travel to Toronto. They had to spend money for two nights accommodation at a hotel in Toronto. They stood in line at 6 am in the morning, and then finally they were told they couldn’t get their passports until the next day.”

MP Hughes explained, “people will be able to bring their passports to Service Canada satellite offices. For the Island and outlying areas, they will have to go to Espanola. And when Service Canada does clinics on Manitoulin, residents will have the opportunity to have reps look at their passport.”

“There has been an extraordinary number of people wanting to travel,” said MP Hughes. She said her party had urged the government to have a task force formed to look at how things would be handled once the pandemic subsided, so there wouldn’t be these problems with passports. But this was to no avail.

“The minister must ensure that Canadians are able to reach someone when they are making inquiries to get an update on the status of their passports,” said Mr. Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay. “The process must be improved so that travellers can receive passports in a timely fashion without being inconvenienced. It makes people anxious that they won’t make their travel dates, it costs them more, and it again makes people outside of major urban centres feel like they have no recourse. The serious incompetence in the process and the lack of planning have led to these delays, and frankly, it’s unacceptable.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the NDP had repeatedly pushed the federal government to establish a border reopening task force which would have helped to identify issues such as growing  demand for passports as travel reopened and this could have been acted on before becoming a crisis, said MP Angus.

Karina Gould, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, stated in a release July 15, “Canadians deserve access to timely, efficient, and transparent passport delivery services. We’re continuing to tackle big challenges in the passport program, and as the summer progresses, thank to the hard work of Services Canada staff, we continue to see improvements in service delivery.”

“We are starting to put a dent in the backlog,” said Minister Gould, explaining that, “in-person services at passport offices are ensuring the vast majority of people are receiving their passport ahead of their travel. This is primarily being accomplished by prioritizing those who have urgent travel needs, while connecting those with non-urgent travel with other service solutions.”

“We’re working to make service more accessible to everyone, wherever we can,” said Minister Gould. “Last week, 19 out of 35 passport offices and an additional 18 Service Canada Centres offered extended hours of service including weekend appointments. We will also be using new tools for scanning and data entry that will help reduce the inventory.”

“We continue to increase the workforce, including hiring and training approximately 500 passport officers and 319 citizen service officers (CSOs), as well as reassigning employees from other departments,” continued Minister Gould. “Still, too many people have had to wait until their situation is urgent before they can get their passports. The more progress we can make on the backlog, the closer we will get to an environment where Canadians can get their passports within our service standards. In the meantime, we’re working to make the experience at the passport offices better.”

“With the implementation of the triage system, we will reiterate that there is no need or benefit to arriving at a passport office the night before. At passport offices, teams of managers are using the triage system to go through the line, assess needs, and ensure that each client who comes during office hours is being provided a service solution based on the urgency of their travel. Canadians can check out what the approximate wait times are at each office.”

Minister Gould said, “if your travel is scheduled in the next week and you have mailed in your passport application or applied at a non-passport Service Canada centre and you do not have your passport, you should go to the nearest passport office to request a transfer of your application file. If you mailed in your passport application and it was not processed within the 20-business day service standard, all additional processing and pick up fees will be waived.”

“I understand the passport situation continues to be challenging and frustrating. We will continue to work around the clock to address these issues and resolve this situation,” continued Minister Gould.

“If people can’t get through on the phone to get their passport, we can direct them to the area director for Service Canada in Sudbury,” said MP Hughes. She added, “If their travel date is close and they don’t have their passport, we are encouraging people to call us. If they have two weeks before they fly out, we should be able to help them have their passport done and sent to them.”