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Friday, May 09, 2014

Adventures in bureaucracy at Passport Canada

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?" 
Me: "No." 
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?" 
Betty:  "No." 
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.

Ugh.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

And that was after they streamlined the process. You should have seen it before.

Alain said...

Isn't bureaucracy wonderful? Too bad you didn't insist on seeing the guy's supervisor, but I can relate to being so frustrated by the stupidity that you just have to get out of there. I recall an experience at the same passport office about 30 years ago when I applied to get a passport for my second son who was born in Quebec. I had the record of live birth from the hospital with all the signatures and stamps along with photo and the rest. The woman clerk informed me that I must have a baptismal certificate for him to which I replied that no being Christian it would not happen. I had to insist on seeing a manager to get them to understand that the record of live birth from Buckingham Hospital where he was born and signed also by the doctor who delivered him was more valid proof than a baptismal certificate. But what a total waste of time to say nothing of the level of frustration.

Anonymous said...

work for the government and get your idiot badge immediately. this does not even begin to define stupid.