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April 9, 2002

Citizen Lyon

My name is Chris and I am Canadian.

Or so I thought. It turned out when I needed to prove my citizenship, I didn't have any valid documentation.

It all started when I found out I got the summer co-op job at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington, USA. The working visa required I have a valid Canadian passport. I checked my passport only to find it expires April 30, 2002 -- my first day of work. I needed a new one.

Luckily for me, there's a Passport Office in Kitchener, so I had some passport photos taken, grabbed my old passport and headed into downtown Kitchener. Upon entering the Passport Office, I was stopped by a tall East Indian man in some sort of official-looking uniform. He asked me if I was here to apply for a new passport. I told him I was just here to renew my passport.

Him: "Ok, where is your application?"
Me: "Uh, I don't have one."
Him (handing me an application):"Ok, you need to fill out this application, get it signed by a guarantor, bring it back here along with your birth certificate, two passport photos and your chequebook. I mean credit card. Or bank card. We don't take cheques."
Me: "What about cash?"
Him: "Of course we take cash."
Me (holding up my passport):"But I just need my passport renewed. It hasn't expired yet, see?"
Him: "Oh, then bring that too."

Now I readily admit that I should have done some research first to find out exactly what was needed, but since I wasn't applying for a new passport, just to renew my still-valid one, I figured that was all I needed. Ok fine, I can come back. There's still two months before my job starts, I'll just come back later.

I filled out the application easily enough, but the whole "guarantor" thing scared me. A guarantor must have known the applicant personally for at least two years and must have one of the twenty prefessions listed on the application. Among them were doctors, engineers, notary publics and university instructors. "Ok," I thought. "I've been going to Health Services for at least two years. Surely a doctor there would sign my application." So I naively walked into Health Services asking to speak to someone who could help me. A few minutes later a nurse brought me into an exam room, opened up my file and asked me how she could help me. I explained I needed someone to sign my application. According to my file, despite the fact I've been coming here for four years, I haven't been seeing the same doctor for more than two years, so she couldn't help me. End of discussion.

Fine. I'll ask my CS Advisor. No luck there either. She stuck to the letter, if not the spirit, of the rules. Fine. So I brought it to Troy Vasiga, grad student, CS Advisor and instructor extraordinaire. He had taught me in the Fall of 1999 and was more than happy to sign the application for me. Ok, back to the passport office, with a month and a half to spare.

Back at the Passport office, I was again stopped by the tall East Indian. I showed him my completed application, passport photos and Québec birth certificate (I was born in Montréal). He seemed to find that last document very interesting. He stared at it, turned it over and fondled it for about half a minute before (quite rudely) shoving them all back into my arms. He handed me a ticket and motioned at the waiting area. Ok... I sat down and patiently awaited my ticket number to be called. About fifteen minutes later, my number was called and I confidently walked up to the counter. I laid out all my documents on the counter and told the nice lady that I wanted to renew my passport. She took one look at my birth certificate and face fell.

Her: "Oh... you have one of the old ones."
Me: "Uh, I guess so."
Her: "Sorry, we can't accept this."
Me: "Why not?"
Her: "The Québec government is no longer recognizing birth certificates issued before 1994. You'll need to apply for a new one."
Me: "What!?"
Her: "Until 1994 local parishes could issue birth and baptismal certificates, so the government never had a central database until now."
Me: "Ok, fine. But can't you just renew my old passport? I have everything else."
Her (handing me a birth certificate application): "Sorry. You'll have to fill this out and mail it in to the Québec government. Don't worry, it's in English. Come back when you've got it. Sorry."

Ok, so I filled out the application, including my credit card number and mailed it in. I even paid the extra mount to have it rushed. A month and a half before I leave...

Two weeks later, it came in the mail. A tiny, thin piece of paper bearing the provincial blue fleur-de-lis. Great! So I rushed to the Passport Office. There was a snowstorm that day, so my feet got soaked running to catch a bus (yes I missed it, thank you very much). I got into the Passport Office and found out I was the only customer there. Sweet! No lineups! The tall Indian still insisted on giving me a ticket. My number was immediately called, and the Indian thoughtfully pointed to the counter. Thanks.

Once again, I spread out my documents, making sure to point out my valid birth certificate. Ok, no problems, she told me. I asked her to rush the passport. It would cost an extra $30 on top of the $85. Fine. She had to know the reason I wanted it rushed. Could it be because I've been trying to get this passport for a month already? I told her I needed it for a working visa and I was leaving in less than a month.

Her: "Ok, that will be $85."
Me: "What about the rush?"
Her: "Oh yeah!"
Me (muttering): "urge to kill... rising..."
Her: "I'll have to cancel your current passport. I'll just throw it out..."
I must have made some sort of shocked face because she stopped in mid sentence.
Her: "...or you could keep it as a souvenir."
Sure toss it. Not like I had my travel records from visiting Europe, Japan and Korea on them.
Her (handing me my cancelled passport): "Ok, come back in a week."

And yesterday I returned. I was told to wait at Counter #1, and to not bother getting a ticket. So I walked into the office brandishing my pick-up slip. Instead of the tall Indian, there was some woman. I walked past her, clearly heading for Counter #1 when she called out:



Unfortunately the end of this story is quite anti-climactic. Less than three weeks before I have to leave, I got my passport. One and a half-months and $150 later, I can finally prove that not only was I born in this country, but that I'm also a citizen.

00:00 | Misc Rambling


I betcha that tall East Indian man got his Canadian passport a lot faster!!! Ha! This country just gets better, doesn't it? Be thankful you didn't have to come to Mississauga to line up. You now have to be there at 6am and wait for about 4 or 5 hours. The passport office is in a mall but you can't park in that mall. You have to park on the street. Everyone (about 3 million I estimate) from Brampton comes here also because the government closed their office "because of funding", Colleen Beaumier's office tells me (Imagine that--the Liberals are short of funding)plus the millions from Mississauga (I say millions because I'm counting everyone that lives in basement apartments and don't get counted on the census). This is a disgrace! This is how they treat people in third world countries! So your story really didn't surprise me. It's actually sad.

Posted by: Sharon at February 16, 2004 1:40 PM

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