In a move that will likely affect a great number of seniors and many members of Canada’s Indigenous communities, Service Canada is shutting down its network of in-person centres across the country.
The announcement comes as Canadians attempt to navigate a maze of new government programs designed to help cope with the social ill-effects of COVID-19.
The federal agency operates 318 full-service centres and almost 250 more outreach centres that received about 8.4 million visits during the 12-month period between April 2018 and March 2019.
That figure included over 1.9 million people walking in to use a self-service kiosk.
For most Canadians, attempting to jump through the proper bureaucratic hoops to collect their benefits, the closings are unlikely to result in major problems.
However, for those uncomfortable on the internet who have long made their way to a Service Canada office to consult with human beings to help answer vexing questions and to help fill out mystifying forms, the change will more than likely lead to the heightened stress they already feel as they grapple with recent developments brought on by COVID-19.
How bad could it turn out to be?
Maybe, not all that bad.
Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen, who is in charge of Service Canada, says officials will make alternate arrangements for people who need personalized services.
“During a time when we are asking most Canadians to stay home, we need to make sure our service delivery model follows the best public health advice, while also meeting the needs of Canadians,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
“We recognize that this might be a challenge for some Canadians who prefer to receive services in person. I want to assure Canadians that we are committed to ensuring they all have access to the support they need and deserve.”
Hussen said staff at the offices will focus on answering questions coming into call centres while others will be available to call people directly by request to help with EI and pension applications.
With files from Canadian Press