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Don’t underestimate how long it can take to apply for or renew a Canadian passport

Applying for or renewing a Canadian passport has become more streamlined in the last few years.

It takes 10 business days if you apply in person at a Canadian passport office and 20 business days if you apply in person with a Service Canada receiving agent or by mail within Canada.

Some passport offices offer urgent and express services for an extra fee if you have to leave Canada quickly and have proof of your travel plans.

I know it works, based on my family’s experiences. Both of my adult sons renewed their passports quickly to attend family events in the U.S. — one on the same day and one in two weeks, despite having to renew his Ontario health card as ID.

Given the can-do attitude at passport offices, there’s no need to hire an independent contractor to process your paperwork.

I wrote a column last month about Judy Csillag, who paid $ 527.51 for a five-year passport renewal and Nexus pass to a company she found online while searching for an office near her. The government charges $ 170 for the same service.

To make things worse, the company returned her documents and told her to file the application at a passport office herself since she had to supply an original copy of her citizenship papers.

As a result of the column, I heard from two Toronto Star readers who were born in the United States and were renewing their Canadian passports after a gap of a few years.

Both had to apply for a document to prove they were Canadian citizens. Since February 2012, the government has required a letter-sized citizenship certificate that can be validated electronically, replacing a previous plastic wallet-sized card.

“For all passport applications, you must provide proof of Canadian citizenship unless you are eligible for a simplified renewal,” says Beatrice Fenelon, spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

“These requirements are in place to prevent fraud and maintain the integrity of the passport program.”

Proof of Canadian citizenship applications takes five months to be processed, but nonroutine applications may take longer.

Elizabeth Oakley applied last November and still doesn’t have her citizenship certificate. She has no idea when it will arrive.

“I’m the single mom of three and I just wanted to take a vacation. I haven’t had one in 12 years,” she says. “Since I was born in the U.S. to Canadian parents, I needed proof of citizenship to renew my passport.”

Here’s the problem. She was born in 1966, but the U.S. government made a mistake on her birth certificate and said she was born in 1965.

Oakley said she has a document from the U.S. hospital where she was born, confirming the accurate birth date.

She wrote to citizenship minister Ahmed Hussen and didn’t receive a response. Her MP’s office said it didn’t have any influence over the process.

According to a spokesperson, the IRCC processing centre, located in Sydney, N.S., wrote to her on Jan. 8 to say her application would not be processed within the five-month time frame.

I asked Fenelon about the delay on June 11. She said the inconsistent birthdates put Oakley’s application into the nonroutine category.

On June 15, the IRCC asked her for additional documents to confirm her identity and complete her application.

“I’ve done a thorough check of all my email folders, including my spam, and there is not one single email from IRCC, either in January or June,” Oakley says. “A simple phone call to the hospital is all I suspect is required to resolve this issue.

“What was supposed to be a five-month process has dragged out to eight months and I could continue to be landlocked for up to 24 months. It’s preposterous.”

I also heard from Ken Ould, who had booked a flight for April 23, 2018, to visit family in England. A U.S.-born Canadian citizen, he had no proof of citizenship except a document issued in 1967.

After applying for his passport last December, he waited a few months while the flight date grew closer. Later, he applied for urgent processing, but he failed to fill out an item on the application form and had to start over again.

“All I wanted was to see my relatives, maybe for the last time, because I’m 87 and time is running out. I missed my flight because I had no passport and my sister had to leave without me. I’m very disappointed in our government,” he said.

When I asked Fenelon about Ould’s case, she said he should have asked for urgent processing at the start.

He is now working with the Travel Industry Council of Ontario to help get a refund and avoid a nail-biting wait for another flight he booked for next fall.

Ellen’s Advice

If you’re a Canadian citizen born outside Canada and your passport has expired, you probably need a citizenship certificate to renew it. Apply now. Don’t risk the loss of your travel plans.

If your passport is up to date, try to renew it before the expiry date or in the year it expires. You will expedite your passport application and avoid having to provide the extra documentation.

Ellen Roseman is a columnist based in Toronto covering consumer affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @ellenroseman

TORONTO STAR