For the fourth time, Amani Kaiss and her mother were up early, waiting in line to renew her passport at Canada Place in Edmonton Thursday morning.
“No, it’s not my first early morning here. I came here last week. Me and my mom have been here four times and nothing is changing.”
Kaiss said the pair typically arrives at the passport office at around 5 a.m. and they’re allowed inside the building at 6 a.m.
“We live an hour away. We live in Leduc, so it’s a hassle for us to get here.”
Kaiss and her mother are scheduled to fly to Lebanon on Sunday but her passport is expired. That’s why they’re coming back day after day.
“It’s not that we’re not getting into see someone. It’s the way the passport processing works. They tell you something but they mean another thing.
“Our deadline is Sunday, June 12 and they told us that we’ll get our passport, but we haven’t. We had to reapply and then we keep doing applications and nothing seems to be working.”
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Kaiss admits she’s frustrated and exhausted, but is trying to stay positive.
“Everyone is the same situation that we are, so what can we do? We just hope for the best.”
She also empathizes with the passport office staff.
“It’s hard on them as well. It’s not easy for them working. They’re just doing the best they can and trying to get people in and we just have to be mindful of that.”
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The situation is the same for much of the country’s as pent-up pandemic wanderlust fuelled a backlog in passport processing times.
Officials have been bracing for a rise in passport demand with the relaxation of COVID-19 border measures, bringing on 600 new employees to help sort through the influx of paperwork. Last month, Service Canada reopened all passport service counters across the country, and additional counters have been added at more than 300 centres.
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But as many Canadians look to venture abroad after more than two years of pandemic-restricted travel, some passport seekers say they’ve been forced to camp outside service centres or reschedule trips because of the bureaucratic bottleneck.
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It seemed to catch federal officials by surprise.
“The fact of the matter is that while we were anticipating increased volume, this massive surge in demand has outpaced forecasts and outstripped capacity,” Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould told a parliamentary committee on May 30.
“We know many people have been put in very difficult circumstances. And that is why I have directed officials to work as hard as possible to meet the demand.”
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Between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, Service Canada issued 363,000 passports as services were limited to urgent travel cases.
But as the world has reopened, demand has skyrocketed. Between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, nearly 1.3 million passports were issued.
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Since April, more than 317,000 passports have been handed out, and the federal forecast for 2022-2023 is between 3.6 million and 4.3 million applications.
Based on projections from last week, 75 per cent 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 per cent of those who submit an application in-person at a specialized site receive a passport within 10 working days.
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Melissa Hansen and Brianna Rosin came all the way from Fort McMurray to Edmonton’s passport office.
“We drove from 10 last night to come here and now we’re here to wait in line,” Hansen explained. “We’re travelling next month to Vegas, so less than 40 days, so we’re hoping that we can get it today, but we have no appointment so we’re just kind of winging it.”
The two heard about the long lines and delays and packed lawn chairs for their wait.
“It’s frustrating but we’re also the ones who didn’t prepare in advance,” Hansen said.
“It’s on us,” Rosin added. “The consequences of our own actions.”
The pair are ready to return Friday if Thursday’s efforts aren’t fruitful.
“We want to go to Vegas pretty bad,” Rosin said.
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Noah Huang also has travel plans for July and needs to renew his passport, but he doesn’t feel the pressure as much as some others in line.
“I’m still OK. Other people have to fly out Friday or next week, and they cannot get it and they’re in trouble. That’s why a lot of people are frustrated.”
Huang spent seven hours in line on Wednesday and returned Thursday morning hoping for the best.
“I didn’t get in (yesterday)… We have to come here around 5 a.m. so maybe we can get a chance.”
With files from Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press
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