Federal Government sued over refusing to accept passport applications


CALGARY: The Justice Centre has filed a court application on behalf of Shelley Baker, Sonia Faye and Diane Smith, three Canadians who applied to renew their passports and were denied by the Federal government. Canadians have a constitutional right to enter and leave the country, but this right cannot be meaningfully exercised without a passport because passports are required for international travel.

On March 19, 2020, all Service Canada Centres and Passport Offices closed and the normal processing of passport applications ceased. Since then, citizens who require new passports or passport renewals have had to prove to government bureaucrats that the purpose of their travel qualifies as “valid urgent”. According to the government, “valid urgent reasons to travel” are:

  • For a medical reason because [they] have a serious illness;
  • Because of the serious illness or death of someone [they] have a relationship with;
  • Because [they’ll] have financial problems from the loss of a job or business;
  • To support an essential service;
  • For humanitarian reasons (with letter of proof from humanitarian agency).

No definitions or explanations of the above criteria has been provided to the public. In July, hundreds of thousands of people crossed from the US alone into Canada at land borders, and thousands of international flights have resumed from Canadian airports.

The Justice Centre’s three clients attempted to convince bureaucrats that they had “valid urgent reasons to travel” and to process their passport applications, but were refused.

On July 2, 2020, the Justice Centre sent a letter to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada demanding the Minister fulfill his constitutional obligations to accept and process passport obligations. No response was received. As of July 28, 2020, the Government of Canada websites still indicate that normal passport processing has not resumed. No explanation has been provided to Canadians for the lack of resumption of services.

Section 6(1) of the Charter protects the right of Canadians to leave the country. However, as courts have recognized, the exercise of that right requires a passport. Canadians whose passports have expired since March have been unable to meaningfully exercise their constitutional right to leave Canada, because they are unable to get their passport renewed unless they can convince the government their reasons for travelling are “valid” and “urgent”.

The Justice Centre’s court application seeks an order from the Court requiring the federal government to resume processing all passport applications, and a declaration that the refusal to process Ms. Baker’s, Ms. Faye’s and Ms. Smith’s passport applications violated their Charter section 6(1) right to leave Canada.

“The federal government has a constitutional obligation to accept and process passport applications in a timely and fair manner, and without requiring people to meet an arbitrary test proving their reasons for travelling are “valid” and “urgent,” states Justice Centre lawyer, James Kitchen. “Canadians have a Charter-protected right to enter and leave the country, and the refusal of the Federal Government to resume normal passport services prevents them from doing so, infringing this fundamental mobility right.”