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“It’s kind of like everyone for themselves right now”: What it’s like in the lineup at a downtown passport renewal office

By Andrew Oliphant| Photography by Joshua Best
"It's kind of like everyone for themselves right now": What it's like in the lineup at a downtown passport renewal office

The summer months are upon us, and as Covid-19 restrictions ease, Torontonians are eager to leave the country and travel abroad. But long wait times at passport offices across Canada have kiboshed countless vacation plans (and caused some serious headaches). On Monday, we spoke with the brave, determined and frustrated folks at a downtown passport office about tackling the long lines.


Allie Worland, 18
"It's kind of like everyone for themselves right now": What it's like in the lineup at a downtown passport renewal office

How long have you been waiting in line? We got here an hour before it opened, so close to four hours now. 

When do you need your passport by? I have to leave in two weeks. I mailed in my passport in April. I tried calling the hotline a few times, but it just said that all the lines are busy and to call back later. They’re going to have to speed the process up. I’m going to Cancun before my friends and I go off to school.

Do you have any backup plans if this doesn’t pan out? No, no. We should have made some, but no. It won’t fall through, though. 

Apparently, you can now pay someone to stand in line for you. What do you make of that? Really? I wish I knew that before coming here. But it’s kind of weird to pay someone just to wait. 


Ashley Da Costa, 36
"It's kind of like everyone for themselves right now": What it's like in the lineup at a downtown passport renewal office

How long have you been waiting in line? I’d say about three hours.

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When do you need your passport by? It’s actually for my eldest son—he’s going to Portugal. But he has exams so he couldn’t be here. So here I am. We were at another location and had waited for about four and a half hours when they told us that, at that particular location, we wouldn’t get the passport back in time. So here we are, waiting again. 

Do you have any backup plans if this doesn’t pan out? Nope. He was lucky that grandma purchased the ticket, so this needs to be done.

Apparently, you can now pay someone to stand in line for you. What do you make of that? Actually? I think I read a little blurb about that online, but I didn’t think anybody would do it. I’m not going to pay for someone to just wait in line for me.


Liliya Reshetylo, 34
"It's kind of like everyone for themselves right now": What it's like in the lineup at a downtown passport renewal office

How long have you been waiting in line? Almost two hours. I kind of knew what I was going into because the line was pretty long. I guess I was hoping for some luck. 

When do you need your passport by? It expires in six months, but I need it for work. I need to reapply as soon as possible. I will have a lot of travelling in July, so I need to make sure my passport is renewed by then.

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Do you have any backup plans if this doesn’t pan out? Not really. I can’t go to work if I don’t have a passport, so it has to come through. 

Apparently, you can now pay someone to stand in line for you. What do you make of that? I don’t think I’d do it. I have to bring my passport, so I’d rather be here myself. Plus you never know how long the line will be, so having to be somewhere on standby? Yeah, that’s strange. 


Gerard Mannella, 24
"It's kind of like everyone for themselves right now": What it's like in the lineup at a downtown passport renewal office

How long have you been waiting in line? For a couple of hours. We went to Mississauga first. There were people sleeping in their lawn chairs, so we just left. They said the wait was six hours and 45 minutes there. This line is much shorter. 

When do you need your passport by? I was supposed to leave yesterday. My passport expired in February, and I just didn’t check. It’s pretty embarrassing. My sister is doing her master’s in Florence right now, and we’re very close. I haven’t seen her since Christmas. I was looking forward to visiting her, so I’m pretty disappointed. I realize now that there’s probably a slim chance that I’ll actually go.

Do you have any backup plans if this doesn’t pan out? Maybe go to Montreal? It would be a lot easier. It’s almost a European city, right? It’s got cobblestones! But yeah, no. Not really.

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Were you prepared for this? We were pretty naïve about it. We live about 20 minutes away from the Mississauga office. The office opens at 8:30 a.m., so I set my alarm for 7:55 a.m. and thought we’d be fine. When we arrived, there were people sleeping who’d been there since 4 a.m. So, no, I was not prepared. 


Alessandro Aycan, 19, and Julia Zabielska, 18
"It's kind of like everyone for themselves right now": What it's like in the lineup at a downtown passport renewal office

How long have you been waiting in line? Alessandro: Well, we started off in the wrong line because someone told us that we were supposed to be in that line. We waited for two hours, and then, about an hour and a half ago, we found out we were in the wrong line. It’s been interesting.

When do you need your passport by? Julia: We’re going to the US to visit my uncle in Connecticut around July 14.

Alessandro: The problem is that, online, it was very hard to find information about how you go about doing this. The website is very poorly designed—it takes you to a lot of dead ends. And trying to find the forms you need is very hard to do. I feel like, if I wasn’t an internet-savvy person, it would be hard to navigate. I don’t think my mum could do it.

Julia: There are basically no options. You have to come here in person. You can’t call them—they’re completely busy. You can’t book appointments either, apparently. You have to set aside a whole day to wait because it’s going to be at least five hours.

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Do you have any back up plans if this doesn’t pan out? Julia: We’ll just have to go later, I guess. 

Alessandro: Either go later or go camping in Algonquin Park or something.

Apparently, you can now pay someone to stand in line for you. What do you make of that? Julia: I don’t think I’d do it. It’s not that bad. 

Alessandro: I mean, it’s kind of bad. If I was busier today, I might be willing to do it.


Bobby Singh, 44 
"It's kind of like everyone for themselves right now": What it's like in the lineup at a downtown passport renewal office

How long have you been waiting in line? For two and a half hours. I had to take a day off. My first time waiting was last week. I was trying to book an appointment, and for some reason, it took me to a Service Canada in Milton. So I drove all the way there. Then they told me that, if I need it within 45 days, I’d have to go to the actual passport office. I went to the Mississauga office on Friday and waited there for four hours only to hear that they’re not taking any more people. People had been waiting there since midnight, and it was 2 p.m. This morning I came here early enough, so it’s not bad.

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When do you need your passport by? We’re going to my mother-in-law’s retirement party in the US at the end of July. My daughter’s passport expired during Covid, and over the two years, we didn’t realize it. 

Do you have any backup plans if this doesn’t pan out? No, then we can’t go. It’s sad. She’s the only grandchild, so it would be nice to be there. 

Apparently, you can now pay someone to stand in line for you. What do you make of that? I haven’t heard about that, but I was thinking about that while I was waiting. I know a few people who wouldn’t mind getting paid to wait in the line.


Alison Cooper, 39 
"It's kind of like everyone for themselves right now": What it's like in the lineup at a downtown passport renewal office

How long have you been waiting in line? I just arrived, but I mailed in my stuff on April 20 for my two kids, and I haven’t heard anything back. I requested a transfer and was told they would be transferred to the North York location. I waited there last week for three hours only for them to turn me away at the door. They’re only seeing people two days away from travel at that location. It’s so terrible. I gave them my phone number, and they said, “Yep, we’ll call you.” No one has called me. It’s been really frustrating.

When do you need your passport by? We’re going to Greece on July 13. And, yeah, I don’t know if I’m going to go. 

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Do you have any backup plans if this doesn’t pan out? Where can I travel without a passport? I guess I’m going to BC. It sucks because I want to get out of Canada. It’s been way too long.

Were you prepared for this? No, but I feel like it’s so unorganized. This location has been awesome, but I have not experienced that anywhere else. It’s kind of like everyone for themselves right now. The lineup that I waited in at the North York location was serious.


Jen Foote, 50
"It's kind of like everyone for themselves right now": What it's like in the lineup at a downtown passport renewal office

How long have you been waiting in line? For a couple of hours now. I came prepared with my lawn chair though. 

When do you need your passport by? I need it by July 13. I’m on my way to the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. Jerry Douglas is the artist-in-residence. My passport expired during Covid and I forgot to check if it was still good.

Do you have any backup plans if this doesn’t pan out? My friends who have passports will take my tickets. I’ll have to find a festival in Canada. 

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Apparently, you can now pay someone to stand in line for you. What do you make of that? I heard about that. I thought about doing it—What is it, $20, $30 an hour? It makes sense if you have to go to work.

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