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The union representing Canada’s passport officers says its members are facing verbal abuse, stress and long hours as they continue to respond to an overwhelming surge in applications prompted by an uptake in travel after the lifting of many COVID-19 restrictions.

For weeks, travellers have taken to social media to complain about the slow turnaround times for passport renewals and long lines at passport offices. Kevin King, national president of the Union of National Employees, said the approximately 2,000 passport officers his union represents are trying their best to process applications efficiently, but the volume is overwhelming. There have been instances of “physical contact” with security guards in the lines outside of passport offices, he said, and staff are dealing with “cursing and swearing” from frustrated applicants.

“The intervention with those in line, trying to triage all of that, has become a problem and of course their tempers are short in the line because people are waiting for hours,” Mr. King said.

From April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021 – the first year of the pandemic – Service Canada issued 363,000 passports, said Employment and Social Development Canada spokesperson Mila Roy. That number jumped to more than 1.27 million the next fiscal year.

In just March and April of this year, Service Canada received nearly 500,000 passport applications, she said; 176,786 passports have been issued since April 1. The passport call centre is fielding 86,000 calls a day, compared with about 5,000 daily calls prepandemic.

In response to the increased demand, Service Canada opened all passport service counters across the country last week and more dedicated passport intake counters at 317 Service Canada Centres. Ms. Roy said Service Canada has also hired an additional 600 staff since last September to support processing, adding that passport officers are working overtime and on weekends.

Mr. King said new staff weren’t onboarded fast enough to prevent the bottleneck. He urged applicants to have some patience for the passport officers who, despite increased demands, still have to review every application carefully.

“Having a passport remains a privilege and not an absolute right of Canadians,” he said. “You have to go through a process like everyone else.”

Kam Sandhu’s patience was tested earlier this month when he tried to obtain passports for his children ahead of a trip. After two unsuccessful visits to the Surrey, B.C., passport office, he returned at 7:30 p.m. on May 11 to get in line for the next day. He camped out overnight, and says that by 3 a.m. at least 20 people were in line behind him. On the morning of May 12, he received a ticket for a 1:30 p.m. time slot and went to work. He returned at his appointment time, but had to wait another two and a half hours before he got to a counter.

Passports issued and passport applications received by Service Canada, by time frame

Passports issued

Passport applications received

1,273,000

960,000

were between

Sept. 1, 2021 and

March 31, 2022

500,000

363,000

176,786

April 1, 2020 to

March 31, 2021

Since

April 1, 2022

During March

and April 2022

April 1, 2021 to

March 31, 2022

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: SERVICE CANADA

Passports issued and passport applications received by Service Canada, by time frame

Passports issued

Passport applications received

1,273,000

960,000

were between

Sept. 1, 2021 and

March 31, 2022

500,000

363,000

176,786

April 1, 2020 to

March 31, 2021

Since

April 1, 2022

During March

and April 2022

April 1, 2021 to

March 31, 2022

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: SERVICE CANADA

Passports issued and passport applications received by Service Canada, by time frame

Passports issued

Passport applications received

1,273,000

960,000

were between

Sept. 1, 2021 and

March 31, 2022

500,000

363,000

176,786

April 1, 2020 to

March 31, 2021

Since

April 1, 2022

During March

and April 2022

April 1, 2021 to

March 31, 2022

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: SERVICE CANADA

“In total, I probably spent about 27 hours in line over that three-day span,” Mr. Sandhu said. “The whole experience was nothing but uncertainty and pain.”

What should have cost $114 for two children’s passports came to $334 because he had to pay for urgent processing.

In a letter to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser and Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould earlier this month, the Conservatives said the Liberal government’s “half measures” are “insufficient.” Conservative immigration critic Jasraj Singh Hallan accused the government of failing to plan for the anticipated influx.

“It was totally predictable. This is again another failure of sitting on your hands because they knew when the borders were going to open,” he said.

Ms. Roy said 85 per cent of Canadians who apply for passports currently receive their document within 40 business days – 20 days longer than the service standard for applications sent by mail or submitted at a Service Canada Centre – while 97 per cent of those who apply at a dedicated passport office (separate from a Service Canada Centre) receive theirs within 10 business days.

The government says people travelling within two business days must visit a specialized passport site at a Service Canada Centre to apply for their passport, while those travelling in the next three to 25 business days must apply at one of 35 dedicated passport offices. Proof of travel or need to travel is required in both instances. The government is asking applicants who aren’t travelling in the next 25 days to apply at a Service Canada location or by mail.

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