The federal government plans to open four new passport pickup locations nationally as it struggles to manage lengthy wait times and backlogs that have plagued the application process for months now.
The new application and pickup service will be available in Trois-Rivières, Que.; Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.; Charlottetown, P.E.I.; and Red Deer, Alta.
People making applications at those locations will be able to pick up their passports in 10 business days, said Karina Gould, the minister responsible for the passport system, at a news conference in Trois-Rivières.
"This will make life significantly easier for those applying for passports in these areas," she said.
Ottawa plans to offer 10-day turnaround times at "nine or 10" additional locations in the near future to meet the government's goal of offering passport services within 50 kilometres of most Canadians, Gould said.
Ottawa didn't predict extent of demand: Gould
The move to open new pickup locations marks the government's latest effort to improve what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has described as an "unacceptable" situation facing would-be travellers.
Service Canada, the agency that processes applications and distributes passports, warned earlier this year of an "unprecedented surge" in applications as Canadians eager to return to international travel flooded their offices with applications.
"We knew that there would be increased demand for passports after restrictions were lifted, but we did not predict to what extent there would be increased demand," Gould said on Wednesday.
At the peak of demand this spring, applications for passports were said to be 40 times higher than before the pandemic.
Gould said that "the situation has improved considerably" since June, when 281,055 applications were submitted — the highest monthly total of the year.
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Ottawa has pledged to hire more workers and has assembled a dedicated task force to reduce wait times.
Despite those efforts, Canadians continue to report months-long delays before receiving their passports. Those delays have forced some families to cancel their travel plans.
Extraordinarily long lines have also become a common sight at Service Canada locations. Applicants have reported going to extreme measures, such as arriving at Service Canada offices before sunrise to claim a spot in line.
According to the government's latest figures, 1,092,560 applications have been submitted to Service Canada since April 1, while 748,784 passports have been issued over that period.