Regular passport applications and renewals currently take double the allotted time as Service Canada struggles to keep up with their current volume. Citizens with trips abroad looming are turning to the urgent application process that requires an in-person appearance at a Service Canada location with passport services.

Though the backlog stretches from sea to shining sea, it has disproportionate impacts on northern and rural residents living several hours from the nearest passport office.

The backlog itself is a recent phenomenon and brought about by the combination of passport offices closed by pandemic limitations and Canadians’ widespread desire to travel abroad after COVID-19 restrictions lifted.

But problems with Service Canada’s provision to northern and rural communities when it comes to passports have persisted for quite some time, according to the MP for Prince George-Peace River- Northern Rockies Bob Zimmer. 

“Well, it’s been a problem for quite a while. Since COVID started, there were delays before that. Now we’re just seeing that they are extremely late,” said Zimmer.

Regular passport renewals and applications are mailed into the main passport office in Gatineau, Quebec– just across the river from Ottawa. They usually take six weeks. 

For an urgent renewal, applicants must appear in person at a passport office with proof of the trip that requires the passport.

Though the process is inconvenient for northern residents at the best of times, the current backlog and the influx of urgent applications it has created–and the long wait times that stem from them– makes the process nearly impossible. 

“If you’re in Vancouver, you can just take a half an hour out of your day and go stay [at the passport office], maybe a couple of hours, and go and get your passport,” Zimmer explained.

“But for us, the closest is Edmonton. So you’re at least a seven hour one-way drive.”

If northern residents can make that trip, they go to a centre and wait in one of the long lines that currently populate Service Canada locations nationwide for their appointment.

“They’ve even been told by some passport offices to get there as early as four in the morning to stand in line, to get your passport the same day— but that’s if you can afford it,” Zimmer said. 

The extra trip to Edmonton or Vancouver is an extra expense that not everyone can afford.

“So we realized that some people have just had to cancel their trips because they just can’t afford it.”

Issues with passport services in rural and northern areas are not new.

“This has been brewing for a long time,” Zimmer said. “There needs to be a reckoning of, okay, who’s providing service?” 

According to Zimmer, passport services often fall to the Member of Parliament in ridings usually–but not always–without a passport office. 

His office has aided passport applications for 12 years.

“It’s probably 50 per cent of what we do in our office,” he said.

“We guide people through filling and find errors and avoid problems.”

His office can also check into the Service Canada system, check statuses, and fix small issues if they need to. Many other MPs do similar work. 

Though MP’s can help their constituents clamber through hoops of passport bureaucracy, they cannot approve the applications or issue passports.

The Service Canada backlog, along with the services so many MP’s provide in this area, are symptomatic of a larger problem with Service Canada.

“It demonstrates to us that there’s a problem with the way the system’s working,” Zimmer said. 

“Canada needs to be expanding and doing a better job, and addressing the needs of especially northerners and rural communities,” he said.

Grace Giesbrecht

Grace Giesbrecht is a news reporter for EnergeticCity.ca who recently graduated from Trinity Western University with a bachelor of arts in Media + Communications. She was born and raised just outside of Fort St. John. She began reporting for her university’s student newspaper and interned with Ottawa Life Magazine where she developed a passion for asking questions, telling stories, and the written word. In her free time, you can find her drinking coffee, snowboarding, or reading novels.