Dozens of Nunavut athletes in passport uncertainty as Arctic Winter Games approach

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Team Nunavut officials say between 50 and 70 young athletes are at risk of missing the upcoming Arctic Winter Games due to difficulties obtaining passports.

This year’s games will be held in Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley, meaning all Canadians participating in the games will need a valid passport to cross the Canada-U.S. border.

But with just five weeks until the Games, nearly a quarter of Nunavut’s current 291 athletes are still struggling to get their passport applications processed.

“If they can’t go because they can’t get a passport in time, that’s very disappointing for them,” said Mariele DePeuter, Team Nunavut chef de mission, adding that many applications have were returned for minor errors.

“Obviously, we have a lot of people who have English as a second language, and they’re just missing a very simple step when applying. Or they’ve had issues getting the photo ID or the birth certificate, even to be able to apply for the passport.

DePeuter said no team sport is at risk of not being able to compete due to a lack of players. Coaches of Nunavut’s under-15 men’s hockey team, which won the bronze medal at the 2023 Games, told CBC News six of their players are still waiting for their passports.

Supporters in the stands.
Spectators cheer on Team Nunavut at the 2023 Arctic Winter Games. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

And while Team Nunavut officials have been pressuring their athletes since the fall to begin the application process, DePeuter said the difficulties of obtaining a passport have been a known problem since november. Complicating matters is that team selection could not have happened sooner, she said, due to the timing of the previous Arctic Winter Games in 2023, a year later than they otherwise would have been.

“There was a real shortage of volunteers for sports organizations to step up after these (2023) Games and prepare for other Games that would only be 12 months away,” DePeuter said.

Service Canada MP’s office alerts

The issue was brought before the House of Commons on Wednesday as Nunavut MP Lori Idlout used her speaking time during question period to highlight the overarching issue of difficulties with passport applications in Nunavut.

“Families are now forced to pay thousands of dollars to travel south to get their passports faster or not compete at all,” she told lawmakers.

Speaking to CBC News, Idlout said his office was helping athletes process passport applications by sending them to his MP office in Iqaluit, citing concerns about recent difficulties in providing services to the Iqaluit Post Office. Its staff would then bring the requests in person, to a Service Canada office in Ottawa or Gatineau, Quebec.

A woman, seen from the side, reads a question on a sheet of paper she holds in her hands.
Nunavut MP Lori Idlout, seen here in the House of Commons in December, told parliamentarians this week that some Nunavut families are “forced to pay thousands of dollars to fly south to get their passports quickly or not to compete at all.” (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

Idlout said it filed about 20 to 30 applications before receiving a letter from Service Canada in November or December prohibiting its staff from bringing the applications to Service Canada centers in person.

“They started alerting our office and made it more difficult for our office to help athletes get their passports,” Idlout said. “From what I understand, we were helping so many apps that it seemed like an unusual activity from their perspective.”

Lack of Inuit languages

But Idlout says this problem is synonymous with the general lack of service delivery in Nunavut, particularly when it comes to forms and services available in Inuktitut.

“Another major obstacle of Service Canada is that correspondence is sent only in English and French, so many Inuit do not read either language,” Idlout said, adding that she would like to see at least one of the three Nunavut offices of Service Canada. offices equipped to process passport applications.

In a statement to CBC News, Citizen Services Minister Terry Beech’s office said it is aware of the challenges and recognizes many of the issues raised by Idlout and DePeuter, such as difficulties obtaining identification with photo and language barriers.

“To address these concerns, we are handling applications on a case-by-case basis and offering support through various channels,” the statement said.

“We encourage our customers to visit our 20-day passport services (plus mailing time) available in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge (Bay), or at one of our 13 scheduled outreach sites. “

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