Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 143, Issue 90

Thursday, April 26, 2007
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Foreign Affairs

Passport Canada—Backlog of Applications

Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer: My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In British Columbia, the anger at Passport Canada is growing. The minister is aware that Canadians have been forced to cancel their travel plans and have even lost money spent on family vacations because of the long wait times for passport applications. People are forced to line up as early as 2 a.m. at the Sinclair Centre passport office if they hope to have a chance of getting their documentation. Line-ups are spiralling out of the building and spilling onto the street.

The new Government of Canada was aware that demand for passports would increase when they took office in January of last year. Since last November, demand for passports has grown by 33 per cent and there is no evidence that anything has been done to ensure the demand would be met.

How long will Canadians have to wait before this matter is resolved?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Secretary of State (Seniors)): I thank the honourable senator for her question. There is no doubt that this is a very difficult issue. The government, insofar as Foreign Affairs is concerned, has increased the number of people processing passport applications. There was a huge demand for passports as of January 23, a busy time for air travel. Many people did not believe that the date would be enforced. Unfortunately, the date of enforcement was not in the hands of this government but in the hands of another government.

All I can do is assure honourable senators that every possible measure is being taken. The Minister of Public Safety is trying to resolve some issues with regard to the Canada-U.S. border. This is a difficult situation. Service Canada is also working on this. It is a new agency, as honourable senators know. This is not to excuse the issue, but to simply acknowledge that it is a serious problem, causing great inconvenience and, in some cases, hardship for our citizens, and it is something that the government is working hard to resolve on many fronts.

Senator Jaffer: I realize the Leader of the Government in the Senate has not had notice of this question, so I ask that she let us know exactly what plans the government is putting in place to deal with this issue. My office is inundated with calls, especially from flight crews who are unable to renew their passports. Would the government consider setting up a system to accommodate Canadians who need passports in order to work? Is there a system so that people such as airline crew members might renew their passports in a fast-track manner?

Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for that excellent question. That is another unfortunate consequence of the backlogs; people requesting simple renewals are also caught in the system. I am sure the office of Senator Jaffer is exactly like all of our offices. We are all in the same situation. I would be happy to ask the Minister of Public Safety, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, who is in charge of Service Canada, to prepare a definitive and significant explanation as to what measures have been put in place.