Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Carolyn is more suspicious than I am

So, on February 6, I went to the local Canadian passport office, to renew my Canadian passport; the office is upstairs in a mall near my home.

I noticed as I entered the office that there was a sign on the outside wall of the office advertising a place in mall that took passport photos. Odd, I thought: you need to have your passport photos in advance of coming in, because the back of one of them has to be signed by your guarantor; nobody could show up at the office still needing photos, unless, maybe, they were just popping in to pick up the forms (which you can pick up lots of other more convenient places, such as post offices).

I waited a couple of hours for my number to be called (writing away on my laptop, of course!), went up to one of the clerks, and presented my old passport, birth certificate, completed application, and photos.

"These photos are pretty bad," the clerk said. I thought he was making the standard joke that if you look like your passport photo, you're not well enough to travel -- and I said as much.

"No," he said, "you should get them re-done." I protested that the photos had been taken by the Canadian Automobile Association; they take tons of passport photos, and surely these met the required specifications.

"No, there's a shadow," the clerk said. "Where?" asked I. "Well, you can't see it in this light, but it's there -- they might reject this at the head office. Are you sure you don't want to go downstairs and get another set of photos taken?"

"If you can point to what's actually wrong with these photos, so that I can see it, all right," I said, "but I want to see what's wrong so that if the same thing's wrong with the new ones I can tell the photographer on the spot."

"Well," he reiterated, "you can't see it, but there's a shadow behind your head; it'll make your ears look longer, and they might reject your passport applicaton -- then you'll have to come back and stand in line again. But you don't have to stand in line here again if you get new photos today; I'll give you a card that'll get you to the front of the line when you come back."

I declined -- if he couldn't show me what was wrong, I said I was willing to take my chances. And, of course, my passport showed up today via registered mail, having sailed through the rest of the process.

Me, I just thought the clerk was being an officious twerp, and I don't have a lot of patience with such people. But Carolyn thinks the clerk was getting kickbacks from the photographer in the mall. That had never occurred to me; she's more suspicious than I am.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At February 21, 2007 10:23 PM , Anonymous don said...

And being the eternal pessimist that I am, I think Carolyn just might be right. In this day, you just never know about people.

And I would have done what you did too. 'If you can't show me what's wrong, then to heck with you'.

If you really want to be suspicious though, maybe the photographer and agent are in on an identity theft ring. Crazy I know. But the world is a crazy place.

At February 21, 2007 11:59 PM , Blogger Drakkenfyre said...

She is right and you should report it. No question.

Think of all the people who have been scammed by this, had to fork out extra money, had to go back to their guarantors. Just like those aliens you created to whom wasting someone's time is a criminal offence. This is that situation.

At February 22, 2007 12:37 AM , Blogger Ryan Oakley said...

A card that gets you to the front of the line? WTF?

At February 22, 2007 3:01 AM , Blogger Scott said...

I'm not so sure there's a conspiracy going on -- it may just be bureaucracy at work as usual.

I'm a Canadian whose lived in Asia for the past seven years, and Canadian embassies are EXTREMELY uptight and stingy when it comes to passport restrictions and guidelines, especially when it comes to the photos. Everything has to be more than perfect, though they can't quite explain why that is, or what 'perfect' actually looks like.

The tipping point for me came a few years ago when Canadians were told we can't have the slightest hint of a smile in our passport photos.

Aren't Canadians supposed to be known as relatively meek and friendly?!? Rules like this could damage our global reputation...

At February 22, 2007 7:28 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Well, the guy said that you don't have to get the second set of photos signed by the guarantor -- which also sounds suspicious, now that I think about it. Hmmm ....

At February 22, 2007 7:34 AM , Blogger Lou_Sytsma said...

15 days turn around time. That's pretty good. I hear it would take more like a month or so. Guess the backlog is starting to ease.

At February 22, 2007 10:15 AM , Blogger Stephen_K said...

Yeah, I think I'm with Carolyn on this one.

I need to go get my passport, too, so I'll have to keep any eye out for potential scams...

- S.

At February 22, 2007 11:40 AM , Anonymous --E said...

I agree with your wife. I can smell that poo all the way down here in NYC.

At February 22, 2007 2:31 PM , Blogger Nick Matthews said...

It does indeed sound somewhat sketchy.
I have no idea as to why he thought the second set of pictures wouldn't need to be signed as well. I would think that an unsigned set of pictures would be more likely to be rejected than some undefinable "shadow".

The hint of collusion of any kind between passport officials and photographers is unsettling.

At February 22, 2007 3:19 PM , Blogger Drakkenfyre said...

People working in government institutions are like Caesar's wife. They must act in such a way as to be above suspicion. Anything less weakens Canada.

At February 23, 2007 5:05 PM , Anonymous Brian Raney said...

Canadian passport officials often push people in the direction of passport photo outlets. Most offer notary public services in lieu of a guarantor, which makes the life of a passport civil servant a little bit easier. Since almost anyone can potentially be a guarantor, the verification process can cause long delays with some applicants. It’s easier for them to verify a judge, civil official or notary public. And almost every passport civil servant knows to blame a denied application on your photo and not the guarantor behind it. They have too many applicants as it is to waste time arguing about guarantors, so they often suggest the use of passport photo outlets to save everyone concerned a little time and patience.

At February 23, 2007 5:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

People working in government institutions are like Caesar's wife. They must act in such a way as to be above suspicion. Anything less weakens Canada.

Hear, hear, drakkenfyre! I am a Nova Scotia civil servant, and I couldn't agree with you more.

Public service is a job, but it's also a public trust. I deeply resent the actions of a few public servants who tarnish the rest of us.

John F
Truro, NS

At July 26, 2007 1:41 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which Passport office was this?
The one on Victoria Street? I'm curious because I work for a passport photo shop and would hate to think my customers are getting scammed and led to believe that their photos are unacceptable.

At July 26, 2007 2:20 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

No, it was the one at Central Parkway and Burnhamthorpe in Mississauga, Ontario -- in the shopping mall there.

At January 22, 2008 5:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had my pic rejected for 1/2 of a 1 mm of hair that was higher in one spot. The pic was taken by a professional photographer who later told me of kickbacks and to see my MP. He remeasured and said there was nothing wrong with the pic. He would not refund the cost even though I was forced to go to the photographer in the mall of the passport office who took a pic that did not even look like me. The secretary in the MP's office was less than interested in being helpful. I should have pursued it further but was too busy as the time.


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