Canadians who need their travel documents renewed before visiting far-off shores will soon be able to skip the line at the passport office, the immigration minister announced Wednesday.
Starting in the fall, Canadians with simple passport renewals will be able to apply online and upload the necessary documents and passport photo on a secure government website, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said.
He made the announcement at an event to unveil a new design for Canada's passport, which includes updated security features and colourful new pages — and removes some references to key moments in Canada's history.
"The federal government is going to continue to work to improve our services and security for Canadians. This passport update is one of the many efforts that is going to improve travel and security," Fraser said at a press conference at the Ottawa International Airport.
Those applying for new passports, including children, will still need to go through the traditional application process with Service Canada.
The digital option is a result of the lessons learned last year when the department was swamped with passport applications, which led to long lines and even longer waits for people to get their documents, Social Development Minister Karina Gould said.
"For people who are just doing a simple renewal of a valid passport, it will be a lot quicker and easier to process as well, because we already have that data in the system," she said at the press conference.
Her department recently got back on top of a large passport backlog after pandemic travel restrictions ended and the passport office was flooded with applications.
During the recent public-service strike, the government urged people to hold off on passport applications. Gould warned that longer lines could ensue once workers were back in place, due to the pent-up demand — but she said that hasn't happened yet.
The vast majority of applications the government receives are for new passports, but the minister said she expects a surge in passport renewals over the next year, as the first 10-year passports issued in 2013 are set to expire.
"We've already started to see that in terms of the applications coming in," she said.
It's impossible for people to know when they apply whether they will get the current version of the passport or the new one, Gould said.
Production is expected to begin on the newly designed passport this summer. In the meantime, people will continue to receive the current version of the passport and can continue to use it until it expires.
The travel document design was refreshed as part of a routine effort to update the Canadian passport every 10 years.
The last time the passport was updated in 2013, the pages were designed to feature historical images of the Fathers of Confederation, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway and Terry Fox on his Marathon of Hope.
The new designs are more colourful and generic, replacing eminent Canadians with faceless figures working and playing in natural Canadian landscapes.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre denounced the new designs in the House of Commons Wednesday, and charged the Liberals with attempting to erase essential Canadian history.
"Why will the prime minister not stand up for our history, get connected to reality and keep the images in our passport that make us so proud to be Canadian?" Poilievre asked during question period.
The Royal Canadian Legion also expressed disappointment that images of the Vimy memorial are not featured in the new design.
"Removing that image in the context of a design change and without knowing the rationale was, to put it bluntly, a poor decision," the legion said in a statement.
Fraser said the government consulted with several groups on the new design, which reinforced the need to reflect Canada's natural environments and diversity, "rather than historical artifacts or symbols that we're still very proud of."
It was also important to change up the design as a security measure, he said.
"If you maintain elements that may have existed in the previous design, it becomes easier to counterfeit the Canadian passport, which is something we want to protect against," he said.
The cover of the new passports will still feature the Canadian coat of arms, but will also include a large maple leaf.
Along with new graphic designs on the cover and inside pages, the updated passport will feature a polycarbonate page — similar to a driver's licence — and other new security features.
"Passport holders' personal information will now be laser engraved, instead of being printed with ink, which is going to make the data page more durable and resistant to tampering and counterfeiting," Fraser said.
The new passport will also feature a see-through window with a second image of the passport holder, an additional laser image and temperature-sensitive ink.