As thousands of Canadians hasten to renew their passports before the summer, scores are still camping outside in British Columbia to better their chances of success.
Blankets, camping, chairs and pajamas were all on display on the parking lot median outside the Surrey Service Canada Centre for passport renewal on Wednesday. Many in line spent the night there, shivering in tents as an unseasonable storm approached.
“We showed up here yesterday at 5 a.m. and we stayed here overnight. It’s been horrible,” said Avang Narjali, who is five months pregnant and was accompanied by her one-year-old, father and cousin.
“I’ve been going in and begging them to help us but they just keep giving us the same answer.”
Narjali is going to Europe in June. She said she’s been told there are no available appointments for those travelling within 25 business days, and every time she’s called Service Canada, no one has answered.
Frustrated, she paid $200 to postpone her flight.
In Surrey, security guards have been handing out a limited number of tickets to enter the passport renewal office each day. The number of daily tickets varies, Narjali explained, so it’s unclear how many in their community of campers — many of whom have flights within 48 hours — will be served.
“Thankfully it’s very respectful,” she told Global News, referring to those in line with her. “At the end of the day we make a list with everyone’s name and so everyone knows their spot.”
Service Canada is experiencing an “unprecedented volume of applications” whose processing has been delayed by in-person capacity limits set during the pandemic, it said in a Tuesday news release.
As of last week, however, it said all passport service counters were open without restrictions, counter service capacity had increased by 40 per cent and waiting rooms had been expanded.
“Service Canada has hired 600 new employees specifically to support the processing of passport applications, opened more dedicated passport intake counters in over 300 Service Canada Centres,” it said in the release.
Other measures include the opening of new processing hubs, the adoption of new workload management and processing technology, and the addition of Saturday hours in select centres.
Federal passport service standards are 10 business days for processing if applying in person at a Service Canada Centre Passport Services office, and 20 days if applying at a Service Canada Centre or by mail.
While processing times are longer than before the pandemic, Service Canada said 98 per cent of Canadians who apply in-person at a specialized passport office receive their passports in less than 10 business days. It added that 500,000 applications were received in March and April alone.
Meanwhile, those in line in Surrey continued to wait in frustration, noting the service office was nearly empty on Wednesday and several service counters were not operational.
“We need to the government to come and intervene in this,” said Iwalola Badewa, whose flight to Nigeria was on Wednesday afternoon. “I’m proud to be a Canadian, but I’ve never had to go through this.”
Badewa said she spent Monday and Tuesday waiting outside, and when she arrived at 2:50 a.m. on Wednesday, there were 25 chairs in line. Her non-profit, StartUp Generation Charity Foundation, is hosting 1,000 children in seven locations for Nigeria’s Children’s Day celebration on May 27.
“I’m not travelling because it’s convenient for me, I’m travelling because I have little children out there in the world that are going through a rougher time, and they need a face that gives them a model.”
In a written statement, Employment and Social Development Canada said the Surrey site identified a “significant number of unplanned absences” on Wednesday.
“By reallocating resources, 9 counters were open including 6 passport intake, 1 passport pick up, 1 biometrics data collection and 1 triage counter,” wrote spokesperson Saskia Rodenburg.
Service Canada is encouraging Canadians to use its simplified passport renewal process. Anyone with an expired passport that was issued in the last 15 years is eligible, as are Canadians whose passports were stolen, lost or damaged.
No guarantor or original document is required in the simplified renewal process — only two photos, two references, a completed form and the applicable fees.