08/29/2012 10:22 EDT | Updated 10/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Closure of citizenship centre affecting Thunder Bay family

The closure of the local Citizenship and Immigration Centre is causing problems for a Thunder Bay family who need certain paperwork before traveling abroad.

Dharmender Dhankhar and his family would like to go to India for his sister’s wedding but recently learned the Indian government needs to see documentation showing the exact date on which he became a Canadian citizen in addition to his passport.

Dhankar, who has been a Canadian citizen for the past two years, went to the local CIC office to get his oath of citizenship certificate, but that office was closed in June as a result of budget cuts. A sign posted said people like Dhankar could get the services they need by phone.

"Why northern Ontario doesn't have any offices?” Dhankar said. “We are paying taxes, we're doing everything that any other citizen does."

More agents needed

He says he has spent every lunch hour over the past month calling the government’s toll free Citizen and Immigration help number. But Dhankar says the automated options don't cover the assistance he needs, so he has had to call back repeatedly and keep pushing different numbers to try to get help.

Adding to his frustration, Dhankar says when he presses the option to speak to an agent, a message comes on saying all lines are busy and his call can't be transferred to an agent and then it hangs up.

"You have a call centre. Please — it's a request — have some more agents there so you can answer the calls." Dhankhar said. "Because if you are so busy, that means people require these services, they've been calling about these services."

"Hopefully [the] government tries to make it easier for the citizens, especially because most people who need these services are the new citizens. And most of us don't know ... where to go or what exactly to do and then on top of that you close these offices. It adds up to that frustration that 'okay, now I have to go through this call centre' and it's not a pleasant experience for sure."

Since the closure of the local CIC, the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association says it’s seeing more clients.

"It's really been a mix of issues that we've had folks coming in for,” said Cathy Woodbeck, executive director of the multicultural association. “But even those that have a question and are here in the city prefer to drive over and ask somebody rather than calling up the number and waiting."

Woodbeck says many of the clients ask workers to sit with them while they call government numbers.