Kelly Potter Scott was looking forward to taking her 10-year-old daughter across the Canadian border for the first time on a girls’ getaway to upstate New York in a few weeks.
But as she spent hours waiting outside a Toronto passport office, Potter Scott said she had to trust an official’s assurances that her daughter would have her documents for the weekend with her family and his friends.
“If we don’t get it, my daughter just won’t be able to come with us, which will be unfortunate,” Potter Scott said. “Fingers crossed we get it in time.”
She was among dozens of people in a queue that stretched across the block on Wednesday, some carrying folding chairs as they made their way to the door to submit their passport applications.
Some aspiring travelers have expressed concern that their summer holiday plans could be scrambled as pent-up pandemic wanderlust fuels a backlog in passport processing times.
Authorities braced for a surge in demand for passports as COVID-19 border measures eased, bringing in 600 new staff to help sort out the influx of documents. Last month, Service Canada reopened all passport service counters across the country, and additional counters were added in more than 300 centres.
Rise in demand for “over capacity” passports
But as many Canadians seek to venture abroad after more than two years of pandemic-restricted travel, some passport applicants say they’ve been forced to camp outside service centers or postpone their trips due to the bureaucratic bottleneck.
This seemed to take federal officials by surprise.
“The fact is, while we were anticipating an increase in volume, this massive increase in demand has exceeded forecasts and exceeded capacity,” Minister for Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould told reporters. a parliamentary committee on May 30.
“We know many people have been put in very difficult circumstances. And that’s why I’ve asked officials to work as hard as possible to meet the demand.”
Between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, Service Canada issued 363,000 passports, as services were limited to urgent travel cases.
But with the reopening of the world, demand has exploded. Between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, nearly 1.3 million passports were issued.
Since April, more than 317,000 passports have been issued and the federal forecast for 2022-2023 is between 3.6 million and 4.3 million applications.
According to projections last week, 75% of Canadians who apply for a passport receive one within 40 working days, a spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada said in a statement. Ninety-six percent of those who submit an application in person at a specialized site receive a passport within 10 working days.
Nadia Elsayed of Oakville, Ont., said she mailed her infant daughter’s passport application in early April, indicating a tentative travel date in late May.
Elsayed waited for the envelope to arrive in her mailbox as this date came and went. With passport services not answering the phone, she turned to her MP and discovered that her daughter’s documents were in a pile of other applications in Gatineau, Quebec.
She arranged for her daughter’s application to be sent to another office in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. Officials told him they aim to have the passport ready 48 hours before his family travels to the United States this month, Elsayed said, but that cuts him too close for comfort.
“It’s still a little out of date, to be honest,” she said. “It just feels like we’re hanging on and just hoping for things to happen.”