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Toronto couple struggles to get marriage licence amid pandemic restrictions, high demand
Aug. 9, 2021

One year ago, Kyle Cowan and his fiancée Melissa Rizzo set their wedding date for Sept. 18, 2021, hoping vaccination rates would be up in Toronto and guests would be able to attend in person.

But it wasn't the pace of immunization against COVID-19 that slowed their plans -- it was getting an appointment for a marriage licence with the City of Toronto. Cowan said when he tried to book one in late July, he couldn't find any available until the end of September.

"We can't seem to get an appointment anywhere," Cowan told CBC News by email on July 26. "Why aren't more clerk offices being opened to meet the demand that reopening the province has created?"

Couples need to book appointments to obtain marriage licences, which officiants then use to legally marry them. In Toronto, appointments can be booked online for the North York Civic Centre. In an emailed statement, the city said only one office is issuing them at the moment to ensure proper physical distancing, cleaning and safety due to the pandemic

The city also told CBC News it's experiencing high demand for appointments, with more than 100 booked each day. Due to a "software limitation" however, some appointments that are available aren't showing up on the city's booking site, and staff say they are working to resolve the issue.

Cowan, who lives in Toronto, also tried to find an appointment in Vaughan, which is experiencing higher demand than usual. In a statement, the City of Vaughan said due to COVID-19 restrictions, there are limited appointments available and that the city is fully booked for July and August.

Some cities like Oshawa, where the couple plan to get married, are limiting appointments for marriage licences to residents of the area.

Starting Aug.  9, the City of Toronto says it will reopen other civic centres to the public that have been closed since March 2020, resuming in-person services such as property and utility tax payments.

After weeks of searching, Cowan eventually heard back from the city and was able to secure a marriage licence appointment for mid-August. 

Rescheduled weddings also in high demand
With the city reopening, many couples are now looking to host delayed or cancelled pandemic weddings, which is another reason why it's harder to find appointments for licences, according to Rebecca Chan, owner and lead planner Rebecca Chan Weddings & Events.

"This summer, we have 2020 couples looking to get married, but we also have inquiries from newly engaged couples as well who are trying to get married," she said. "Everyone is fully booked--not just the marriage licence office but even vendors."

Chan has worked with couples in a similar position as Cowan: soon to be married, but unable to find an appointment for a marriage licence in their city.

And while it's become customary for couples to sign their contract during the marriage ceremony itself, she said newlyweds can always legally register their marriage with an officiant after a symbolic celebration.

Some marriage ceremonies held in places of worship like a church, however, may require couples to present their marriage licence to their priest before the marriage is officiated.

Carmen Luk, the lead planner and owner of Devoted To You, a wedding planning service in Toronto, has also helped her clients find appointments for marriage licences by booking ahead as much as possible, and emailing the city with requests.

Toronto allows appointment bookings for couples getting married within the next three months, while the City of Vaughan says it is making appointments a priority for couples whose wedding dates are within the next 60 days.

Luk says she is also fielding more wedding planning requests than usual, which means that more couples are also now trying to book appointments ahead of their big day.

"We've been having weddings almost every week," she said.

"I do encourage people to really plan ahead."