Six-month passport delay prevents Canadian teen from participating in martial arts competition

Jan 6 2023, 10:21 pm

A young competitive martial artist from Delta, BC, has been sidelined from her sport because of a lengthy delay in getting her passport.

Fourteen-year-old Sybila was ranked first in the world among other jiu-jitsu athletes in her bracket earlier this year but dropped down to fifth after missing competitions because she couldn’t cross the border.

Her father, Vincent Leelin, tells Daily Hive the lengthy delay and lack of information from the government is unacceptable.

“She trains three to four days a week. She’s taken home a lot of gold for Canada, but … one of the major reasons holding [her] back is a travel document. It just gets very frustrating.”


The young athlete dropped in the rankings after missing competitions in November and December (Submitted)

The family visited the Burnaby Service Canada office in mid-July to get new passports for Sybila’s upcoming competition season. They thought they’d have plenty of time.

Vincent remembered a note on the door of the passport office advising people not to make travel plans on or before November 17, but that was fine because his daughter’s first competition wasn’t until late November.

Vincent and his wife got their new passports on November 20 and 21, but their daughter’s still hasn’t arrived. They had to cancel Sybila’s November competition and a competition in December. Now, Vincent isn’t sure if he should register her for the next competition in January.

It’s incredibly discouraging for the young athlete and her family — especially since one competition location was less than an hour’s drive from their home in Delta.

Sybila training


Vincent isn’t sure why his daughter’s passport is taking so much longer, especially since she’s so young, she was born in Canada, and she had a Canadian passport already. Vince and his wife had Philippine and American passports, respectively, and applied for new Canadian ones after getting their citizenship.

The father followed up with the passport office when the November 17 expected delivery date came and went and was simply told his daughter’s application was still being processed. The only update was that it could go slightly faster if her passport was sent to the Surrey office.

The family still doesn’t know when the teen’s passport could be ready.

“That’s a lot for a child. I mean, go through all that [training]. And the next thing you know, there’s only one that’s holding you back, which is your passport.”

A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada, which manages Service Canada locations, apologized for the family’s wait in an email to Daily Hive.

“We deeply regret the circumstances that resulted in the inconvenience to this client as a result of this situation,” the spokesperson said. “While the timeliness of passport processing has improved over the fall and winter, our teams continued to work through a backlog of applications such as this one over this period as well, and as a result, this application has fallen well outside our standards.”

In a Facebook group called Canadian Passport, others are also complaining about lengthy delays on their children’s passports. Bonnie Cheng said she submitted her daughter’s application in August and is still waiting for the passport — even though an adult application she submitted at the same time already came through.

Bonnie Cheng


Marco Roy submitted his 13-year-old son’s application for a new passport in March 2022, and although he’s got his original documents back there’s still no passport in sight. He hopes his son will receive it in time for a cruise planned in May.

Frustrated parents are also taking to the federal government’s official social media accounts to complain.

unhappy passport

Passport offices dealt with huge lineups earlier this year as travel picked up after pandemic restrictions lifted. Part of the problem was slim staffing after COVID-19 layoffs paired with a surge in demand for passports. At one point, entrepreneurial individuals even charged hundreds of dollars to hold a place in the days-long lineups.

But the government hired many more workers over the summer, and now boasts that 94% of passport applications have been processed within 20 business days since October 3.

passport office

TikTok user @kenzo9999_ captured these images of the line at the Central City passport office in Surrey, BC, extending into the parking lot (@kenzo9999_/TikTok)


“The high application volume in the first half of 2022, combined with the health and safety measures in place, led to a build-up of inventory that exceeded our capacity to process applications within service standards,” the Employment and Social Development spokesperson said.

She also noted that a child’s passport technically cannot be renewed — the parent or guardian must apply for a new child passport when the current one expires, and each application is assessed separately. Applications for new passports are apparently more complicated than renewals.

“All efforts continue to be made to process applications received prior to October 3, including having dedicated resources processing these applications,” the spokesperson said.

She added clients who’ve not received their passports back in 20 business days can request a transfer by contacting the Passport Program or visiting a Service Canada centre or passport office to ensure their application is processed in time for travel.

Megan DevlinMegan Devlin

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