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Backlogs and bottlenecks in passport processing through Service Canada appear to be causing problems for clients seeking other core services through the facilities, such as death benefits or employment insurance.
Lower Mainland resident Kim Boechler told Global News she waited more than 13 hours cumulatively over three separate attempts to submit Canada Pension Plan death benefit paperwork for a cousin with mobility problems.
She was able to get the paperwork filed on her third attempt, after showing up at the Coquitlam office at 8 a.m. with a lawn chair and waiting five hours. She got two parking tickets in the process.
“What was frustrating me was there were a lot of people for passports, but there were other folks just needing to do day-to-day business,” she said.
“Application for death benefits, social insurance numbers, EI and immigration. We were about maybe 20 per cent of the lineup. When I left I was incensed this was happening … we’re talking about old people with canes, people with all kinds of mobility and barrier issues.”
The Canada Employment and Immigration Union, which represents Service Canada workers, told Global News it has been raising concern with management about stress on the system when the economy reopened for at least a year.
Union national vice-president Crystal Warner said the agency should have been staffing up in anticipation of demand at least six months before it did, given the complexity of training workers need.
“We knew this was coming … I think anyone with some common sense could have anticipated that,” she said.
“We had been asking are we going to staff up, are we going to ensure there are additional pop-up centres for example …. do we have an ability to triage the lineup so that we can put somebody looking for (employment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan or Old Age Security), can we put those folks at the front of the line. And unfortunately the employer has not listened to us.”
With delays reported across the country and people sometimes camping for days outside Service Canada locations, Warner said tempers have flared, leaving workers on the front line to bear the brunt of people’s frustrations.
“We have had computer screens thrown at our members, we’ve had our members spat at, we’ve had cursing, all sorts of horrible incidents of violence.”
In a statement, Employment and Social Development Canada said it continues to exceed standards for processing times of EI and death benefits applications, but did not address wait times at service centres to actually submit those applications.
It also said it had managed to eliminate the long waits reported at its Surrey location, as of May 24.
“Thanks to reprioritization of resources wait times have been as low as eight minutes, with only about 10 people waiting in the welcome line and with no clients waiting in the mall or outside the building.”
The union said the improvement at one location, however, comes from moving staff from other locations, making the situation worse at other Service Canada centres.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said Service Canada was in the process of onboarding 500 new passport office workers.
Boechler said whatever the solution is, it needs to happen sooner rather than later given the many people rely on Service Canada offices for critical financial services.
“We’re coming out of a two year pandemic. They’ve got excuses for pretty much everything, but I’m just not buying this one,” she said.
“This shouldn’t have been the impetus to be hiring more staff. Good grief. If this happened in the private world, they’d be fired.”