It is possible to shorten the time typically required for PAL approval. Even if you are not in a hurry, you should monitor your application. Waits of 4 and 5 months have been reported in other threads.
Once you have mailed in your PAL application (either first time or renewal), you can log into the CFC (Canada Firearms Centre) website to check your application status:
It will not usually appear online for about two weeks after receipt by CFC.
One way to shorten this period is to send your application registered mail (with receipt required) so that you know when it is delivered to CFC in Miramichi.
Following receipt by CFC, (and before it appears online), you can phone the CFC to confirm delivery. It usually appears online the next day.
[Jan/12 update: it appears that due to the number of CGN users following this guide the CFC has changed its procedure and will no longer check for your application. It is still worthwhile to send your application registered so that you know the date of receipt.]
The telephone number for the CFC line is 1-800-731-4000.
Although located in New Brunswick, the office hours are 9:00 to 5:00 in your time zone.
By the way, if you call the CFC line, as you work your way through the options, you are advised that you should wait 45 days before making any inquiries. Don't pay attention to that if you want to move your application along.
There is another part of the message that says there may be a delay if some info is missing but "be assured you will be contacted by CFC staff". That is complete bs, they will not contact you and ask for the missing info. They will send you a form letter advising you to call in or your application will be cancelled; it won't tell you what info they require. That will add two weeks to your wait, because that is how long it will take them to get the form letter issued.
If you are a first time applicant and face a 28 day waiting period this does not mean that you need to wait 28 days before making any inquiries. Processing can occur during the 28 day period so that on day 28 final approval can be granted.
The 28 day waiting period starts from the date the application is received by the CFC, not the date it appears online. (Staff at CFC may advise it is the online date but this information is wrong.) The 28 day wait provision is statutory, it is specified in the Regulations to the Firearms Act. The time starts from date the application is made, and that is the date received by CFC (not the date mailed) and this is the practice the CFC follows, however not all clerks understand this.
If you are renewing a PAL or "upgrading" from a POL or a PAL there is no 28 day waiting period.
Once it is online the application will show up as in the "processing" stage, which means it is sitting until someone at CFC reviews the application looking for missing information. When that phase is complete it is listed online as "in progress" which means in a queue for someone to contact the applicant and references.
The reason you want to get your app. online and into the processing stage is that until you do that it is just sitting in a pile somewhere, yes the clock has started for the 28 day period but nothing is being done with your application. Better to get it into the system.
If any information is missing your application gets put in another queue and sits until someone mails you a standard form letter that indicates you must contact CFC by a certain date or your application will be dropped. The process of sending this letter out can take 10 days plus another 4 or 5 for it to be delivered if you live in the west.
If you haven't been contacted by CFC after a few days into the processing stage, give them a call and inquire if there are any deficiencies or missing information. If there is a missed question you can provide that missing information to them over the phone. They may then offer to transfer you to have an interview conducted on the spot. Again, you need to ignore the message that tells you not to check on the status of your application until 30 days have elapsed.
Once your phone interview is done, ask them for your file number and then have your references call in (toll free 1-800-731-4000) with that file number to do their interviews.
If you are applying for a non-restricted PAL you and your references may not have phone interviews, but if you want a restricted PAL both you and your references will be interviewed.
After all the information is confirmed and interviews are complete the appropriate provincial CFO is responsible for actual approval.
[If you live in Alberta you can call the CFO office immediately (same toll free number as CFC) and inquire about the status and there is a good chance they will approve it over the phone. Alberta CFO does not take calls on Wednesdays, that is processing day so plan around that if you can.]
[For Ontario residents: you can send in your application before you get your stamped CFSC firearms course results back from the Ontario CFO and get the 28 day waiting period started earlier than if you wait and attach the results to the application. Questions 20(a) and (b) each have a box to check if the exam results are enclosed, so you would just leave that blank. Probably also worthwhile to include a note that exam results will follow. The 28 day clock starts once the application is received by CFC. If you wait until you get your 'stamped' safety course report(s) back you have added that to your waiting period, and it is often about 6 weeks.]
Once your application is approved by your provincial CFO the CFC will print the licence and mail it to you. Normally Friday is the day that all printing and mailing is done. If you check online and see the message:
"Current Status: Your application has been processed and your licence has been issued. If you have not received your licence within 2 weeks please contact the Canada Firearms Centre Toll Free number. (1-800 731-4000)" then congratulations.
Depending on the day it is approved there may be a delay until it is printed and the mail system means it can take another week to arrive.
In the meantime you can contact your provincial CFO and ask for your PAL number. Even the Ontario CFO gives out this information.
Send in an original signed application, not a photocopy.
Use Form CAFC 979 for a renewal of a PAL or POL.
Use Form CAFC 921 for a new PAL or if your PAL has expired.
Form 921 requires exam results and two references which form 979 does not require, so make sure you renew with Form 979 well before your PAL expires.
If you have lived with a conjugal partner for a year or more they should also sign the application as a spouse, if they don't they will be contacted by CFC to see if there are any concerns and this will delay the approval process.
Finally, if you are applying for a restricted PAL tell your references why you are doing so, namely target shooting since Canada does not permit carrying restricted firearms for self-defense except for very limited cases. There have been some recent interviews where the reference has been asked to speculate why the applicant is applying for an restricted PAL and whether or not it is for self-defense, so best to have your reference prepared to answer such speculative questions correctly.