Frustrated with the “chaos” of waiting for passports, would-be travelers in Montreal take matters into their own hands.

Marie Sollier spent four consecutive days standing in line outside the passport office at the Guy Favreau complex in Montreal, waiting to receive her passport. It arrives at 5:30 every morning and leaves when the office is closed. Still waiting, her flight to France departs tonight.

She is just one of hundreds of travelers who are claiming their passports.

This morning Soulier and some other people in the same boat, frustrated, began handing out pieces of paper to the people to put their names on, in the hope of tampering with organizing the lines that seemed to go nowhere—some slipping through the spacious hallway and even out of the building. The police were finally called in to take over crowd control.

“We had to fight with boss They even followed our list because otherwise, it was a mess, Sollier said. “We were making sure everyone went to their place because no one was doing it.”

“These people have no idea what they are doing. They don’t care about us. We are treated less than animals,” she said.

“It’s very annoying, and it has to stop.”

Genevieve Gilbolt, Quebec’s public security minister, called on the federal government to “take responsibility” for the delays.

“Half of our taxes go to the federal government so they should be able to provide services – the quality of their services to the population,” she said.

The arduous wait for passports is not unique to Montreal. Since the resumption of commercial travel, passport offices across the country have had to contend with an “extremely high demand” for travel documents, said Eileen Chateney, executive director of Service Canada in the Quebec region.

In an interview on Monday with CBC Montreal Let’s goBefore the pandemic, Chattini said, only five percent of all passport applications were urgent requests, such as death or work-related travel, that needed a response within 24 to 48 hours.

Although there has been a “sharp increase” in urgent travel in the past few weeks, she said that is not the only factor responsible for the backlog.

Marie Soulier arrived at the Guy-Favreau compound in Montreal at 5 a.m. for four days in a row. You are supposed to travel to Europe on Tuesday evening. (Jennifer Yun/CBC)

“Now, we’re seeing citizens who have really done the right thing” by mailing in their passport applications early, she said. However, the sheer volume of applications has overwhelmed the passport offices.

“It’s hard to see customers and travelers who legitimately want a passport have to wait like this,” she said. “It’s sad for them, and it’s sad for our employees.”

Actively recruiting

An official from the office of Karina Gould, the minister for family, children, and social development, told CBC News that the department has identified 200 federal employees working in employment and social development in Canada who may be reassigned to help with passport processing, and the Canada Revenue Agency is also determining whether they can be seconded. None of its employees for the task.

This is in addition to more employees the government has already appointed this year to process files over extended working hours.

In January, 1,500 employees worked in the passport program. Since then, Chatini said, the government has hired 600 workers and redeployed 600 former passport officers or other clerks, and is actively recruiting another 600.

“Becoming a passport officer is not something that happens with a two-hour training, it requires experience,” she said.

But Kevin King, president of the National Employees Union, which represents employees at passport offices, said the additional workers were unable to have passports validated because they had not undergone the 12-week training programme. He said that the work done by the transferred employees must be approved by the passport officer.

“Pulling people from other government departments to help with things like traffic flow and things like that, queuing in offices, doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.

King said he was concerned that some people waiting for their passports would not turn up.

“There have been examples in Montreal where employees have been subjected to harassment and verbal harassment,” he said, adding that some of that harassment occurred while workers were leaving their offices.

As their voters’ frustration mounts, Liberal government ministers say Ottawa is doing everything it can to address the demand for passports. Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos described the delays as “totally unacceptable”.

After seeing photos of crowds outside Jay Favreau’s compound, Gould told reporters on Tuesday that her department should use a “new strategy” to handle the huge volume of orders.

“I know Canadians are frustrated,” she said. “I’m also disappointed seeing those pictures.”

Gold told Radio Canada late Tuesday that the passport office in Montreal, which she described as the most difficult situation in the country, will introduce a new system Wednesday morning. People will be given a number and a date in order to reduce chaos and long queues.

Soulier said she has called the local MP, Soraya Martinez-Verada, but there is no guarantee that she will receive her passport in time to visit her grandfather, whom she has not seen in more than two years.

“I haven’t been able to speak to an agent from Passport Canada this whole time,” she said. “I feel tired”.

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