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The passport office at 74 Victoria Street in Toronto, in 2007.Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail

Some Canadians are waiting outside government offices for days in an attempt to renew their passports amid a resurgence in travel prompted by the lifting of many COVID-19 restrictions.

Travellers have taken to social media in recent days to express their frustration about the lines that wrap around passport offices. Service Canada spokesperson Natalie Huneault said the department is experiencing an uptick in passport applications because of the recent removal of some travel restrictions, and understands the concern that lineups and waiting times are causing for applicants.

“Over the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, the volume of passport applications was relatively low, due to a reduction in travel following the imposition of public-health restrictions and travel advisories,” Ms. Huneault said in an e-mail. “With the easing of restrictions and the resumption of travel, Service Canada has experienced an increase in passport applications across the country.”

Ms. Huneault said Service Canada issued 363,000 passports from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021 – the first year of the pandemic. That number jumped to more than 1.27 million the following fiscal year; during that same period, passport request calls have reached more than 200,000 per day, up from about a daily 5,000 calls before the pandemic.

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The department has service standard times of 10 business days for passport applications received in person at a dedicated passport office and 20 days for those sent by mail or submitted in person at a Service Canada Centre. Ms. Huneault said that while some applications submitted at a Service Canada Centre or by mail are taking an average of 25 business days, applications received in person at passport offices are being processed in about five business days.

However, the problem is actually getting into one of the country’s 35 dedicated passport offices.

Maral Karimi of Toronto was appalled by the struggle she faced trying to get passports renewed for two family members ahead of a trip to the Dominican Republic. They booked the trip a month ago and immediately tried to renew the documents. After numerous failed attempts to book a passport renewal appointment by phone and online, Ms. Karimi was told to go to a passport office a few days before their departure to obtain expedited documents.

For three days in a row last week, Ms. Karimi and her husband took turns waiting for hours outside of a downtown Toronto passport office in the cold, rainy weather.

“There was a lady with a seven-week-old baby. There were so many people with children under a year old and strollers. There were elderly. There was nowhere to sit. There was absolutely no sympathy,” she said.

On day three, her husband arrived at 4 a.m. to get in line. Five hours later, he was let inside because he was able to prove they were travelling in the coming days.

Ms. Karimi joined her husband and once they finally reached the passport office, she said only three kiosks out of about a dozen were open. Physical-distancing protocols mean only a limited number of kiosks can operate at one time. The family’s only option was to pay for expedited processing, plus the cost of the passports themselves, resulting in $334 in unexpected fees.

Speaking poolside in the Dominican Republic, Ms. Karimi said she was relived they got the passports, but the whole process made for an “extremely stressful” few weeks.

Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, booked a last-minute trip to Rome after his 17-year-old son, Alessandro, received an invitation to try out for the Italian under-18 baseball team. Alessandro’s passport was due to expire two days after their scheduled return, so he needed a new one to travel. Mr. Volpe’s other son also needed a new passport.

Over a period of two days, Mr. Volpe spent hours at several passport offices in the Greater Toronto Area but was unable to obtain new passports for his sons because of waiting times.

“I saw hundreds of people in every single line,” said Mr. Volpe. “In Mississauga … it was a serpentine line within the mall, taking up the entire interior space, and then wrapping around the building.”

Last Thursday, on the eve of the long weekend, he called the passport program call centre in a last-ditch effort to get an emergency appointment before their departure Sunday. He secured a time slot at the Mississauga passport office on Easter Sunday and his sons were issued their new passports three hours before they had to leave for the airport.

Although grateful they made it to Italy, Mr. Volpe said the government needs to give its passport teams the resources they need.

Service Canada hired an additional 500 staff to specifically to support the processing of passport applications, Ms. Huneault said, and staff are working overtime and weekends to support the influx.

In the meantime, the government is asking applicants who aren’t travelling in the next 25 days to apply in person at a Service Canada location or by mail so dedicated passport offices can focus on processing urgent files.

Richard Smart, president and CEO of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, said the organization has recently heard of some passport renewals taking as long as 12 weeks. He said TICO is encouraging travellers to work with a registered travel agent to book their trips and obtain proper insurance. Although travel insurance won’t cover passport delays, some terms and conditions may allow the traveller to rebook for a later date if they are unable to get their document in time.

In a statement Friday, the Conservatives said the federal government should have been able to predict the increased demand for passport renewal as countries reopen their borders.

“Unfortunately, the Trudeau Liberals have shown that they do not have a plan for a return to normal life or to handle living with this virus,” said Conservative immigration critic Jasraj Singh Hallan.

“Canadians expect the Trudeau Liberals to resolve these delays and swiftly get passport renewals moving again.”

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