When Susan Mansour mailed her children’s passport applications, along with their birth certificates, as required, she didn’t expect to feel like she’d sent them into the ether.
Mansour, a kindergarten teacher from Île-Perrot, Que., and her husband Bachir Malha, an electrician, posted those documents to the Service Canada passport centre on April 20, well before their planned trip to Disney World later this month.
Now the $4,000 trip for which they’d saved up is just weeks away; the plane tickets are paid for, and Mansour still hasn’t received the passports or any information about when she will get back the children’s birth certificates.
“We sent it early to avoid all of this,” Mansour said. “It’s my summer vacation. We look forward as teachers not to chase after documents or wait hours in line.”
Mansour is far from the only Canadian who mailed personal documents for passport applications or renewals and haven’t had them returned — sometimes even after waiting for hours in line to pick up their valid passport at the office.
Natasha D’Onofrio recently picked up her five-month-old son Nico Amato’s passport, after mailing in all necessary documents on May 9, but Service Canada still hasn’t returned the baby’s birth certificate.
She needs to have it back in time for his baptism in August and may have to contact the province to get a new one issued.
D’Onofrio said reaching Service Canada to ask to have the certificate returned was a time-consuming chore in itself.
“Having to get in touch with them is a nightmare,” said D’Onofrio, after spending a day repeatedly calling the Service Canada phone line for information on her son’s file.
“I managed to get through, but … it would have been impossible for me had I not had someone to watch the baby,” she said.
The average wait time to reach the call centre for the week ending on July 3 was 51 minutes, according to Service Canada, which received more than a million calls during that period.
Passport applications still flooding in
Passport applications and related documents mailed in Quebec would have gone to the Gatineau processing and printing centre, says Élaine Chatigny, Quebec regional director for Service Canada.
“There are no longer unopened applications. There’s no unopened mail,” Chatigny said. “Everything has been scanned or in the process of being scanned.”
The easing of travel restrictions and the fact that early in the pandemic, Service Canada was not processing passport renewals for anyone without imminent travel plans has led to a monumental backlog of applications now awaiting processing.
Since April, Service Canada has received more than three-quarters of a million passport applications, and it projects it will receive a total of 4.2 million passport applications this fiscal year. The department could not confirm how many applicants are waiting to get back documents they had to submit to get their passport.
The best way for people to retrieve their documents, Chatigny says, is to go to their local passport office and describe their situation to an officer.
“It’s either immediately see a passport officer that day or we will take the information … and we will go into the system, and someone will call that parent to clarify the situation,” she said. “Every situation is slightly unique, but that’s the overall best approach for individuals to get their passport or stop the process and get their child’s birth certificate.”
If Service Canada fails to process complete applications within nine weeks, for people whose travel plans are more than 45 days away, it won’t charge transfer and pick-up fees, a spokesperson for the department said in an email.
For kids heading for U.S., birth certificate may suffice
Ongoing processing delays and uncertainty about when documents will be returned have also put parents travelling with children to the U.S. in a double bind.
Canadians under the age of 16 travelling to the U.S. by land or sea can enter the country without a passport, so long as they present a valid birth certificate or Canadian citizenship card.
Many people do not know that, however, Chatigny said — and that has also contributed to the high volume of passport applications.
Learning now that her children, nine and 11, do not need a passport to enter the U.S. if the family drove across the border is small consolation for Mansour, since she mailed their birth certificates away more than two months ago, and she already bought their airline tickets.
“I just felt very hopeless that we might actually have to cancel the trip or spend even more money, when we could have just hopped on the plane,” she said.