''The volume (of applications) has been substantially increased, and we had to respond to that,'' Foreign Minister Peter MacKay told reporters in a passport office.
Canada will no longer require professionals, like mayors or doctors, to vouch for the identity of applicants, serving as a guarantor. Any passport holder can now vouch for anybody else.
And Ottawa will make it simpler to renew passports, no longer requiring proof of citizenship once again or another declaration from a guarantor.
It now takes as long as 10 weeks to get a passport by mail -- though only about two weeks for those who apply in person -- as Canadians who used to enter the United States with just a driver's license or a birth certificate scramble to get passports following the introduction of new US entry rules.
Passports are already required to fly into the United States from Canada. From next year they are scheduled to be required for the more frequent land crossings.
About one out of every two Canadians will have passports by this summer, compared with only one out of every four or five Americans, MacKay said.
The United States, also facing a backlog, said today it would temporarily relax its rules for Americans travelling to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean, allowing them to show identification and proof they have applied for a passport when they return home.
REUTERS SRS PM0215