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'Spitting on them': Service Canada workers say they’re being abused by customers at passport offices

"They're taking it out on them and they're abusing them and swearing at them and spitting on them," says a union representative.
The government announced new triage measures to curb passport office wait times across Canada in 2022 — but unions say the issue is about to get worse.

If you have had a hard time getting your passport lately, you are far from alone. 

But as scores of people struggle to obtain their travel documents, pressure continues to mount on exhausted Service Canada employees who are tasked with handling an unprecedented surge of requests. 

The government recently announced new triage measures to curb passport office wait times across Canada — but union representatives say the issue is about to get worse before it gets better.

The new system kicked off in Vancouver on Monday (June 27), with priority to clients travelling within the following 24 to 48 hours; those with long-term travel plans will be directed to the most appropriate service channels.

Kevin King is the national president of the Union of National Employees — a union representing over 21,000 members in various sectors and roughly 800 passport officers. He told Vancouver Is Awesome that safety is one of the top concerns for passport officers across the country as "tempers are flaring" with clients due to long waits. 

"Employees are asking their union to help to ensure that they are able to go into the workplace in a safe and secure environment without being swarmed...going into the workplace [or] leaving the workplace," he said. 

Multiple employees have been pushed, yelled at, and sworn at, explained the union leader.

Passport Canada: Customers threatening employees

Sargy Chima, national vice-president for the Canada Employment and Immigration Union in the British Columbia and Yukon Territory region echoed this sentiment, noting that clients are frustrated by the time they see someone after waiting in line for several hours. 

"They're so frustrated for being there," she told V.I.A. "They're taking it out on them and they're abusing them and swearing at them and spitting on them."

Despite working long overtime hours, staff are still unable to help everyone when the lines become too long — and some clients are threatening employees who do not help them. 

Both Chima and King stressed that the influx of people who will want to renew their 10-year passports may further increase long wait times

Introduced in Canada in 2013 10-year passports will expire in 2023 — but many countries require a passport to be valid for six months before its expiration date.

And while the triage may help, long lineups will continue with insufficient staff. The employees are already working overtime and can't meet the demand, Chima underscored.

To help, the federal government has added a new feature that allows people to check the wait times at Service Canada offices across the country. 

On the other hand, a Vancouver blogger went viral after she shared her experience flying to Edmonton to obtain her travel document. She told V.I.A. the experience in Edmonton was "night and day compared to Vancouver."