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Everything you need to know about Canada's new online passport feature

The government comments on why it takes so long, too.
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Metro Vancouver residents have taken to social media to express frustration and outrage about getting a Canadian passport in 2022. Here's what to know.

If you've struggled to get a passport over the past few weeks, you are far from alone. 

Scores of Metro Vancouverites have taken to social media to express frustration and outrage following long waits at passport offices across the regions. Many of them have shared horror stories about their experiences that include everything from waiting overnight or being turned away after waiting for over 12 hours. 

In early May, advertisements for "passport line holders" started popping up in online forums such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist Vancouver, and via personal websites. One of the most striking listings was asking a whopping $800 for an overnight waiting service at Sinclair Centre in downtown Vancouver.

Most recently, a Vancouver blogger went viral after she shared her experience flying to Edmonton to obtain her travel document. She told Vancouver Is Awesome the experience in Edmonton was "night and day compared to Vancouver."

Canada passport wait times: How will I know how much time I need?

The federal government recently added a new feature that allows people to check the wait times at Service Canada offices across the country. 

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) spokesperson Jill Kennedy tells V.I.A. that the current times listed on the new feature are accurate because they are updated three times a day by local staff (at 9:30 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m.).

As of noon on Wednesday (June 22), the current estimate for Sinclair Centre is three hours and 30 minutes. 

Kennedy reports that Service Canada's current processing times are as follows:  

  • 79 percent of Canadians who apply for a passport currently receive their passport within 40 working days. 
  • 96 percent of Canadians receive their passport within 10 working days of submitting an application in person at a specialized site. 

Canadian passport: What do I need to keep in mind for upcoming travel?

If you're travelling within two business days:

  • visit one of the specialized passport sites (Service Canada Centres – Passport Service) offering urgent pick-up service.
  • proof of travel is required. 

If you're travelling within three to 45 business days:

  • you can use the walk-in service at one of the 35 specialized passport sites (Service Canada Centres – Passport Service).
  • Appointments are recommended, and proof of travel is required.
  • ESDC notes that wait times at "these sites may be long due to the current demand" and "passports may take up to [two] weeks, plus mail time."

If you're travelling for more than 45 days (or with no specific travel date):

  • over 300 Service Canada Centres are available to receive passport applications in person.
  • No proof of travel is needed.
  • You may also mail in your application.
  • Passports may take up to 9 weeks, plus mail time. 

Passport Office experience: Why are the wait times still so long in Vancouver?

After two years of pandemic-related restrictions, Canadians are eager to travel again, driving up the demand for passports. As a result, the "wait times are far from normal, and we know many people have been put in very difficult and stressful circumstances," Kennedy notes.

"Service Canada is examining and implementing every possible option to expedite intake and processing of applications to help Canadians get their passports in a timely way." 

Across Canada, Service Canada employees are "working overtime and on weekends" to help deliver passports more quickly. Some passport offices have even adapted hours to meet client needs, Kennedy added. 

Due to high volumes, however, the "processing times are longer than usual. We may not always meet our service standards as a result," she said. 

Service Canada: What is being done to help clients?

Service Canada has adjusted the information on its website so clients know what to expect, based on the urgency of their requests, and the way they made their applications, Kennedy explained. 

The government has also:

  • Established a simplified renewal process for any adult passport issued in the last 15 years.
  • Launched an appointment-booking tool that directs clients to the right location for service. "Clients should check back often, as appointments are added as they become available."
  • Added processing hubs across the country.
  • Increased in-person service capacity by making all passport counters across the country available for service.
  • Added almost 600 additional staff and made changes to the phone system to ensure that despite long hold times, the Service Canada system does not drop client calls while they wait. 

"Clients will not be charged any additional fees if a complete application is submitted and we do not meet our published service standard. This includes transfer and pick up fees," Kennedy added. 

Service Canada processed nearly 1.3 million passports between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022 — a sharp increase from the roughly 360,000 passports processed over the previous fiscal year.

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