Sonia Anwari said she had trouble getting her son’s passport through Service Canada.
On a second trip to the Newmarket and East Gwillimbury border office on March 23, Anwari said she was stuck – along with many others – waiting outside in the cold weather.
“Sometimes it takes over an hour, in this kind of weather,” Anwari said, as she stood in freezing rain. “I know it’s COVID, and they’re trying to be safe, but there’s no one to complain to… They should also lift all restrictions. There should be no queue – the queue should be inside.
While Ontario has lifted most capacity limits and other health measures related to COVID-19, not all government services are opening or ending restrictions immediately. Although some local municipal offices are open for in-person services, others are taking longer.
The local Service Canada office is maintaining capacity limits, with participants asked to wait outside the building. The website still urges you “not to visit Service Canada Centers unless absolutely necessary”, noting other online or telephone service options.
Service Canada Media Relations said the centers are federally regulated and follow federal public health guidelines. They said outdoor queues often reflect “limits of physical distancing to serve customers.”
“Some delays are being experienced due to health and safety measures in place and an increase in passport applications,” a spokesperson said. “These safety protocols include following public health advice on occupancy limits. As such, the offices are limited in the number of employees who can work nearby, which has reduced the number of open counters available to serve customers.
The Town of Newmarket began offering more in-person customer service last fall, and its town office is now open to the public during regular business hours Monday through Friday.
However, most of the Regional Municipality of York’s in-person services remain closed to the public, with the exception of waste depots, with customers required to use online services or phone calls.
Director of corporate communications Patrick Casey said the region was taking a “cautious and phased approach” to resuming services after two years focused on the COVID-19 response. He confirmed that most buildings are closed to the public “except for meetings by appointment if necessary”.
“This phased approach to reopening will allow us to assess our policies and protocols and ensure the safety of our residents and employees as we plan to resume services more widely in the future,” Casey said, adding that many further details would be available in the coming weeks. .
Differences over services provided by municipalities were raised March 24 at York Regional Council by CUPE 905, which represents municipal workers in York Region. Speaker Katherine Grzejszczak urged councilors to maintain public health measures for all for the safety of employees, noting that some city governments currently have fewer restrictions than at the regional level.
She called for the return of mandatory screening, masking and physical distancing, as well as free access to the mask.
“I ask you to use your powers as counsel to keep all residents safe,” Grzejszczak said.
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said he wanted to maintain health measures at community centers across the city, but backed off over fears of confusion due to regional inconsistencies.
“I just want to make sure we’re consistent,” he said. “We have non-union and union employees who I think would want the same level of protection. I’m not sure that’s there.
As for accessing federal government services, Anwari said it should be easier and she found it difficult to get a response over the phone.
“I shouldn’t feel anxious and stressed,” she said. “In addition to everything that’s going on in the world.”