New triage measures in place to alleviate lines at Surrey, B.C., passport office

After months of complaints that people camping outside the Surrey, B.C., passport office were getting little to no information from Service Canada managers inside, new triage measures are now in place aimed at alleviating the long lines and frustration.

On Monday, managers were frequently outside talking to people in the line that stretched from the entrance of Surrey’s Central City Mall to King George Boulevard and around the corner. Staff were also handing out bottled water.

“They are nice, they are talking to people, they are providing them the water. But nobody has a proper answer. The standard answer: 'We will try to help you,'” said Gurpreet Rai.

Regardless of when they got in line, anyone with travel within 48 hours was allowed to head straight inside, which annoyed some people who’d spent the night on the sidewalk.

“They get priority, even though we waited here 12 hours. If they came two hours ago, they go right ahead. And that’s not communicated to anybody,” said Kamran Sobhani, who had been in line since midnight.

Those with bookings between Thursday and Sunday were handed yellow tickets that would give them priority access on a set day this week. That left others with later travel dates wondering what they should do.

“We didn’t know whether we will get tickets, or they’re going to send us away,” said Godwin Beaumont, who wished managers told those in line how many tickets would be handed out per day, so people could decide if it was worth waiting.

Sobhani had heard that number was 60. “But this is information you find in the line. Nobody is communicating this information anywhere,” he said.

Because the wait time for mailed-in passport applications is now eight weeks, British Columbians with summer travel have no choice but to line up at Service Canada in person.

But with the Surrey office only accommodating those with travel within a few days, those with bookings in July and August don’t know where to turn.

“What can we do, what are our options? Nothing. Who is answering for it? Nothing. Who knows anything about it? Nothing,” said Sobhani.

Unless the backlog is cleared quickly, it appears summer travellers will have to line up in person in the days leading up to their departure, and hope they get their passport in time.

“Some people have to be accountable for this action,” said Sobhani. “It’s a disgrace.”