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Extra costs, huge wait frustrates Port Coquitlam mom seeking Canadian passport so son can go to college

Canada is triaging passports for only the most urgent flights to deal with the backlog, but that means extra stress for travellers, including a local lacrosse player flying to attend a U.S. school on scholarship.

It's stressful enough to send your kid off to college without having to worry about Canadian passport hassles.

But for one Port Coquitlam family, Canada's byzantine passport system caused a huge amount of anxiety — and extra money — after a network glitch shut the Surrey passport office late on Friday (Aug. 19).

Brandon Woodward was among dozens of people left stranded at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning (Aug. 20) without his travel document after being told he would get it that day.

In an interview with the Tri-City News, his mother, Christine Stephanson, believes the workers should have done a better job of communicating next steps to those who had been waiting several hours for their travel document when they shut their doors.

Urgent requests dealt with first 

All her son was told was if he wanted a passport that weekend, he would have to come up with another $355 for processing.

But that was too late for Brandon, whose flight left for Asheville, N.C., just a few hours later — at 7 a.m. that Saturday morning.

She called the airline and paid $325 to have the flight date switched to Aug. 25, but the extra hassle has caused even more frustration and anxiety.

Plus, the family was left hanging without any knowledge as to when the passport would even be ready by the later flight.

"They are taking advantage of people there who are put into a spot," said Stephanson, "and to give them no information on when it might happen. They weren’t told anything just 'go home.'"

Brandon is heading to North Carolina to attend Mars HIll University, where he's studying health and human performance while on a scholarship to play NCAA Div. II lacrosse.

The Terry Fox Secondary graduate was looking forward to meeting friends in New York and driving down with them to the school, which starts classes next Monday (Aug. 29).

However, the delayed passport scotched those plans.

System leaves people anxious

His passport having expired, Brandon could have applied earlier, but with Canada's passport system suffering overload and delays, he was advised to apply within 48 hours of his flight for a better chance at getting his passport on time, his mom told the Tri-City News.

On Friday, he was told to show up at 2 p.m. to pick up his document, but the hours passed with no word of when the travel document would be ready.

"We waited and we know the passport office closes at 4 p.m., we didn’t think he would be much longer than 5 p.m.," recalled Stephanson. 

At 2:30 a.m., when Brandon was still waiting at the office, workers told him and others waiting for passports that there was a problem with the network.

Sharing pizza in line

Brandon said it was a surreal experience to wait in line for so long, only to be disappointed in the end.

Fortunately, there were others in the same boat who got to know each other through the ordeal.

"I couldn’t believe it, I've never been more close knit with a group of strangers in my life."

Some people shared their pizza with him and someone brought in granola bars.

Still, it was a stressful weekend for the family, wondering what they should do next.

Today (Aug. 22), Brandon drove back to the Surrey passport office with his mom and dad to try again.

After a relatively short wait, he picked up his passport and is now looking forward to heading back to school where he's on the Dean's List and is looking forward to playing lacrosse again for his team.

"I am so relieved, I cannot believe it, thank god I brought these two (his mom and dad)."

How long is the wait in Greater Vancouver?

As of this publication, it's a five-hour wait at the Surrey passport office.

According to the Service Canada website, travellers are being triaged to deal with the most urgent travel first.

The website states, in the Greater Vancouver Area, the triage is separated into three groups:

  • Travel within 24 to 48 hours
  • Travel within 3 to 14 days
  • Travel within 15 to 45 days

Priority will go to those travelling within 24 hours, followed by those travelling within 48 hours.

A local ticketing system may be used to support triaging efforts.

For those travelling within three to 14 days, clients arriving on site will be triaged and provided with service options.