Delays in passport offices: “unacceptable” situation, says Trudeau

OTTAWA – The situation in passport offices is “unacceptable,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ruled on Tuesday, as his government sought to channel additional resources from elsewhere within the federal apparatus to Service Canada.

“We understand that people are facing unacceptable delays and an extremely difficult situation, but we continue to do our job every day to resolve this situation and we will resolve it,” he said during question time.

Earlier in the day, the Secretary of State for National Revenue, Diane Lebouthillier, indicated that her department was coming for reinforcements.

“The request has already been made to us and funds have been lent to assist Passport Canada, but it should be understood that we have also been dealing with tax season during this time,” she said in a press scrum.

Families Minister Karina Gould, in charge of the dossier, said talks were underway to get more support from the Department of National Revenue than that of Immigration, in addition to Global Affairs Canada.

“Of course we will look for resources (regardless of where they come from. Even in my ministry, we have also relocated hundreds of people internally,” she said.

She noted that Service Canada was hiring, with the addition of 600 employees, but added that the work was not finished and that she shared Canadians’ frustration at the situation.

“I’ve been seeing the footage (from) Montreal since last week and it’s really unacceptable. We have senior management from my department who has been on site for two weeks to improve the situation.

Minister Gould reiterated that Service Canada employees work overtime, including weekends, and some members of the public are seen outside regular hours by appointment.

“It’s not enough. I agree,” said Quebec government lieutenant Pablo Rodriguez.

He also said he understood “people’s concerns, anger and frustration” when asked about police intervening with certain people in line.

“We will always do more because the situation is unacceptable and we need to improve.”

Same story on the part of the Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos. “We tell (people online) that this is indeed totally unacceptable, but (also) that we are working very hard to change this. We know that the staff shortage makes all the difference,” he replied.

On the Quebec side, Canadian Relations Minister Sonia LeBel expressed signs of impatience in a Twitter post. “It’s insane to see people camping out to get a passport. We invite the federal government to quickly find a solution to better handle the requests,” she wrote.

During the question round in the House of Commons, the Conservatives and the Bloc also kept up the pressure by pushing Prime Minister Trudeau on this point.

The deputy leader of the official opposition, Luc Berthold, described the situation as a “national crisis”, while the leader of the Bloc, Yves-François Blanchet, spoke of “the madhouse”.

“(The) only answer (from the Prime Minister to) the situation of the passports, they are the ‘talking points’ from two or three weeks ago, Mr Berthold launched.

The latter, like Mr Blanchet, accused Mr Trudeau of being disconnected from what the people on the ground are going through because he doesn’t have to queue for hours to get his passport renewed or even get the to spend the night.

“Before he travels this week, would the Prime Minister like to try this, sleep in the rain for two days?” mocked the Bloc leader.

Mr Trudeau replied that efforts are still being made to contain the crisis.

The deputy leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), Alexandre Boulerice, believes reinforcements from other departments are a long time coming.

“It seems a bit too little at the moment, too late, but we still have to make the necessary efforts and hope that the new people will succeed in speeding up the process,” he said in an interview.

Why not extend the opening hours of passport offices 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Minister Goulda states that this poses challenges, as employees also have to schedule time to process the files received.

“During office hours and of course outside office hours, Service Canada employees still receive the documents, but they also have to do the verifications, print the documents,” she said.

She also said that only 15% of the files that come in are “simple renewal requests”, while the rest, 85%, are requests sent by people who have never had a Canadian passport in the past, such as children or newcomers.

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