Passport backlog growing as Canadians look to travel again

As the federal government loosens testing requirements for international travel, more Canadians are looking to issue their passports and that is causing major wait times at service centres.

After very low demand through the pandemic, passport applications have surged. In the last year, applications have more than doubled and officials say it will take time for the system to catch up.

With time running short, the Newberry family barely made it.

“We realized about two weeks ago that our son’s passport is expired,” says Derek Newberry.

“We’re travelling on Friday, so I’m sure, as you can imagine, our stress levels were at an all time high,” adds Derek’s wife, Jackie Newberry.

They are headed to Florida this week to escape Ottawa’s never-ending winter, but not until they have all their documents in order.

“It says within 24 to 48 hours they’re going to get back to you,” says Derek. “We didn’t get a call for six business days. I was kind of in panic mode.”

Travel insurance agent Martin Firestone of Travel Secure Inc. says passengers are responsible for their own documents and cannot use expired or missing passports as a reason to get a refund.

“Travel insurance, cancellation insurance, will not cover a reason for cancellation that you didn’t get your passport back in time,” says Firestone. “The lineups are hours and hours and hours.”

At a Service Canada office on Prince of Wales Drive, getting a passport is a full day commitment for some.

“I showed up an hour after it opened and I was already five hours in a wait list,” says Susan. “So yeah, that’s how it is.”

“They asked me to come back in two hours,” says Gaurav. “But then, after I came back in two hours, they told me again to come back again in two hours. So, it’s a total of five, six hours of wait.”

The Newberrys were lucky and they say people should be patient.

“You can’t just walk in,” says Derek. “You have no other option but to book an appointment online.”

“I’m sure many people are in the same boat as us,” says Jackie, “which is why the wait times are so long right? They’re definitely backlogged.”

Service Canada says those who need to issue their passports urgently can pay more. For $110 extra, on top of the normal passport fee, a traveller can have their passport ready by end of next business day, but they need to prove they are travelling by providing an itinerary. 

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