Ottawa has a “new strategy” to overcome the long delays in processing passport applications which plans to print more of them at the “print centres” located in Gatineau, in the Capitale-Nationale, and to send them to the metropolitan offices.
“It’s a question of capacity,” summed up the Minister for Families, Children and Social Development, Karina Gould, Thursday during a press scrum in the foyer of the House of Commons.
Whereas before the pandemic, only 5% of passport applications were considered urgent, it is now, for example, nearly 70% of citizens who come to the Service Canada office at Complexe Guy-Favreau in Montreal who currently have a imminent trip, said the minister.
“The printers that are in cities and regions are not industrial,” she explained. They are small because they were created for a demand that was different before.”
The new strategy, which has been implemented in Montreal and Toronto, and which will be implemented in Vancouver on Monday, involves managers now doing triage outside the office.
People whose trip is within the next 12 hours are given an appointment “immediately” to have their passport application processed on the spot and the document also printed there. Those whose trip is in the next few days get an appointment, but the printing of their passport is done in Gatineau, which avoids “overloading the system”.
Finally, in the case of people with a trip planned “in a week, two weeks, three weeks, but if they are concerned about not receiving their passport”, the managers redirect them to Service Canada offices which are not specializing in passports.
Minister Gould said she understands that travelers have “not confidence” that they will receive their passports on time and that is why they will all be given an appointment. She added that the government is aiming for “everyone” to have their passport in time for a trip.
Already, officials say they have seen “significant progress” in certain offices, particularly those in Laval and the Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent, where at 10 a.m. teams of managers had met the 250 to 300 people present online.
At the Complexe Guy-Favreau, where the federal government estimates that 1,500 to 2,000 people were waiting outside at the start of the week, a dozen managers were busy talking with the nearly 500 people present on Thursday.
The Government of Canada also announced Thursday that it will publish on its website and regularly update “key statistics” on passports, including the number of applications received and passports issued nationally.
The website dedicated to passports will be updated according to regional realities in order to guide people to the best place to go, it was specified.
The initiative comes after the addition on the government site of estimates of waiting times in passport offices.
A federal web page indicates that applications submitted to a Passport Canada office can take up to two weeks to be processed and those submitted to a Service Canada office can take up to nine weeks, not including postage.
Ms Gould also confirmed that ‘dozens’ of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff are now helping ‘directly process passports’.
In addition, “up to 200” employees of the Canada Revenue Agency should be added to lend a hand with regard specifically to the situation in Quebec.
Ottawa says it has also identified 75 Statistics Canada employees who can contribute. And the government has appealed to everyone in the public service.
“We have to tackle the backlog,” said the minister, addressing journalists.
“I will do it”
As people wait outside and camp, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante called on Ottawa to install toilets and water points.
“And if the federal government is not able to do it, I will do it,” she said on the sidelines of an announcement in Montreal.
Called to comment on the situation, the Premier of Quebec, François Legault, limited himself to qualifying the situation as “unacceptable”, no longer knowing “what adjective to use”.
The subject rebounded in the afternoon during question period in the Commons. The Conservatives denounced a “monumental Liberal fiasco” and the Bloc Québécois denouncing the “incompetence” of the federal government.
“Yesterday, people were offered to wait in line for a number,” said Conservative Party Deputy Leader Luc Berthold. People waited in the rain all night in line for a number. Result: no number this morning, a new strategy.
The treatment of these citizens is “inhuman”, added the Bloc leader in the House, Alain Therrien.
“The only way out is not the meeting coupons as the minister proposes, it’s not half and half draws, it’s not to organize “Hunger Games”, it’s to open the offices seven days a week,” he sent.
On Wednesday, Ms Gould had closed the door on compensation for travelers forced to cancel their plans. She also refused, twice rather than once, to offer her apologies to those who suffered the failures of Passport Canada.
– With information from Émilie Bergeron in Ottawa and Pierre Saint-Arnaud in Montreal