My sister is planning a trip to the US this summer and needed to renew her passport. I was planning to be in Ottawa this week anyway, so I told her I'd drop off her completed application package at the Ottawa office of Passport Canada, which is where it would have ended up if she had mailed it. Sounds simple enough.
A certain pettifogging torpor permeates large organizations, and never so much so as in government departments that are immune to competition. Such was the case at the Ottawa branch of Passport Canada. When I arrived, there was a single long queue of customers and no signage of any sort with instructions for the perplexed. It seemed obvious that I should join the queue, so I did. When I got to the front there were eight wickets with clerks behind them. I waited for one to open up (it was wicket #4) and then approached. The guy behind the glass said "Do you have a number?" I replied "No, I didn't know I needed a number." He said "You need a number." I asked "Where do I get a number?" He gestured back towards the queue and said "Over there."
I asked the commissionaire where I was supposed to get the aforementioned number- he said "You have to line up in the queue and then go to wicket 1 or 2." Sigh. I rejoined the queue and worked my way to the front a second time.
With my number in hand, I was told to sit in the waiting area until my number was called. A few minutes later I approached Wicket #5. The following conversation occurred with the clerk, whom I'll call "Betty".
Me: "I'm here to drop off a passport application for my sister."
Betty: "Do you live at the same address?"
Betty: "Do you have a letter of authorization from your sister to drop off her passport application?"
Me: "No, it doesn't say anywhere on the form [which is three pages long, by the way] that I need a letter of authorization."
Betty: "Well, you can't drop off someone else's passport application without authorization. Can we call her to get her to authorize you?"
Me: "No, she's not available during the work day. She signed the forms, isn't that enough?"
Me: "So let me get this straight. If she had just mailed the forms to Passport Canada, you would process them, but if I drop off the exact same forms right at your office, you won't process them?"
Betty: "That's correct. It's a totally different process."
Me: "Of course it is. Just give me back the forms - I'll mail them."So I left the Passport Canada office in a funk, drove across town to a post office, paid $2.05 in postage and mailed the package to - you guessed it - Passport Canada, Ottawa.