Service Canada has put a new system in place at the Passport Office in Gatineau, Que. to deal with a massive backlog of applications, and it has many travellers walking away with a new passport in their hands.

Éloi Vallée got what he needed at the Passport Office.

"Now I have it, and tomorrow I’m going to Iceland," Vallée said.

He says he originally applied for it through the mail in February.

"Nothing, I heard nothing; then, I got a call saying my picture wasn’t great, so I needed to do another one.”

With time running out, Vallée arrived at the Gatineau Passport Office early Wednesday morning. He says there weren’t many people in line, "They told me, next day you need to come back at 2 p.m."

Service Canada has implemented what officials call a "Triage" system - which includes giving preference to those travelling within 24 to 48 hours.

"Everything was organized, the people going out tomorrow - you go here, you’re going to go first, you’re going to have it today," said Vallée.

To deal with long lines, Service Canada passport offices like Gatineau, Montreal, and Toronto are now using the triage system. Staff speak with applicants, verify travel documents, and give an approximate time of when to come back,

"Service Canada staff in all parts of the country are working around the clock to improve delivery of passport services to Canadians," said Lori MacDonald, Senior Associate Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Development and Chief Operating Officer for Service Canada.

"The most challenging situations for clients are in our largest cities, so we are making these changes to help reduce stress and worry for Canadians and provide more certainty. While these measures may not alleviate all the lineups and wait times, we are optimistic they will make the client experience more predictable and fairer for all."

The triage methods vary from location to location.

"Staff are focused on clear communication to clients and prioritizing service to those with urgent travel needs within the following 24 to 48 hours," Employment and Social Development Canada said in a media release.

"They are also directing clients with longer-term travel plans to the most appropriate service channels to ensure their passport needs are met and their travel is not interrupted. This includes making better use of the network of over 300 Service Canada sites, and ensuring all centres have the staff, technology and processing capacity to offer by-appointment passport service to clients with less-urgent situations, who have been redirected to them through the triage process."

In the Outaouais region, the triage includes four groups:

  • Travel within 24 to 48 hours
  • Passport transfers (meaning clients who previously applied by mail or at a Service Canada Centre)
  • Travel within 3 to 10 days
  • Passport pickups

The government says preference is being given to those travelling within the next 24 hours, then 48 hours.

"Clients arriving or on site will receive a ticket with an approximate window of time to return for service at these specialized passport sites," the government said in the media release. "Proof of travel or need is required. For those travelling within 3 to 10 business days, clients arriving or on site are being directed to specific nearby Service Canada Centres, with appointments. Proof of travel or need is required.”