Understaffing at Passport Canada—fueled by mandatory work-from-home policies and 20 percent staff attrition—resulted in unusually long processing delays, according to an internal memo.
“As Canadians started to apply to apply for passports, operations at both Service Canada centres and passport processing centres remained constrained with staff limited to 30 to 50 per cent capacity on site,” said the Feb. 10 Passport Canada memo, which was first reported by Blacklock’s Reporter.
The memo, entitled “Processing Passports And Service Delivery,” said that in addition to a fifth of the government agency’s employees resigning, pandemic safety measures that mandated half of the employees work from home made hiring new staff difficult during the worst of the backlogs last year.
“High application volumes combined with staff limitation due to the health and safety measures in place in the spring of 2022 led to a build-up of inventory that exceeded our capacity to process applications,” the memo said.
Passport Canada received an unprecedented proportion of mailed-in applications, the memo added, which are approximately 40 percent less efficient to process than they are in person.
Applicants physically present in Service Canada offices were also burdened by processing inefficiencies. At passport centres in Montreal, managers twice called police to quell protestations from angry applicants and were forced to set up crowd-control barriers.
Passport Canada announced early this summer that it had returned to its pre-pandemic processing capabilities of delivering passports within a 10- to 20-day window, markedly improving over reply wait times in excess of three months during the height of the passport backlog.
“By eliminating the backlog, offering 10-day service at additional locations, creating an online status checker and rolling out online passport renewal services, Service Canada is making it even easier for Canadians to get their passports when they need them,” then-Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Karina Gould said in a statement.
Passport Canada addressed the backlog by increasing its staff by more than 50 percent since April 2022, from 1,391 employees to about 2,600.
Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux, who testified at the Senate national finance committee on Feb. 7, said Passport Canada’s leadership bore the blame for the backlog.
“There needs to be a crack of the whip, big time,” Giroux said.
“I go back to the passports. We have hired that many hundreds of public servants. Okay, but when will I get my damn passport? That’s the outcome. That’s what we are after.”
Giroux also said he was “curious” to see what Passport Canada would say it achieved during the next Departmental Results report.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they claim some sort of success despite the disaster we’ve seen the last couple of months. There is clear, clear room for enhanced leadership,” he said.