Defying Odds, Making a Difference: Winston L. Sayson, Q.C.

By , on September 5, 2015

Winston L. Sayson, Q.C.
Winston L. Sayson, Q.C.

There is no shame in hard work.

From a wise father to his young son, these words resonated with Winston Sayson when he was growing up. He shares his inspiring story of perseverance and success with the Philippine Canadian Inquirer.
More Opportunities, a Better Future
Winston was born in Manila, Philippines in 1963.  He grew up in Makati and Mandaluyong, Metro Manila.

Because of the political and economic uncertainties after martial law, where his father was jailed without lawful charges, his parents decided it wasn’t the best place to raise a family. So, in May 1981, the Sayson family immigrated to Vancouver.

“Our parents wanted to give us more opportunities and a better future,” Winston recalled. “We were eager to make a new life in this beautiful country.”

He added, “When my seven siblings, my mom, and I arrived in Canada, we realized that we all had to chip in and start earning some money to sustain a large family. We were hired for the entry level jobs that we applied  for: door-to-door encyclopedia sales, tele-marketing for carpet-cleaning and time share companies, delivering newspapers, stocking groceries for corner stores, and secretarial jobs. Some of the jobs were difficult, but we persevered.”

“Things became harder when my father passed away unexpectedly in 1985.”

Despite being educated in one of the best schools in Metro Manila and living a more-than-comfortable life in the Philippines, Winston took on the job of being a door-to-door salesman for an encyclopedia company.

“I was told that I would get a free trip to Mexico if I sold a certain number of encyclopedia sets,” he shared. “After two weeks of trying to get into people’s living rooms to make my sales pitch, I finally got one family who said they would think about my sales proposal. But my supervisor said that meant nothing.”

Winston quit his salesman stint after two weeks, having sold nothing. He knew he was not cut out to be in sales and that he had to move on to another job.

His next employment adventures included being a “lobby boy” at a hamburger fast food chain, where he was promoted to being a cook, and then moved on to become a crew chief. He also worked as a car jockey and counter representative for a car and truck rental company.

“My Dad told us that there was no shame in hard work and I believed it. I semi-cheerfully did the work,” Winston said.

Later on, through much elbow grease and determination, Winston earned his political science degree in 1985 and his law degree in 1988 from the University of British Columbia (UBC).

‘Work twice as hard to prove yourself’
“Canada was generous and welcoming to immigrants,” Winston said, adding
that having relatives who were already in Canada was a great help and advantage.

“However, our lack of ‘Canadian experience’ and familiarity with the new culture encouraged us to learn and adapt quickly… I worked hard to ‘Canadianize’ my Taglish (Tagalog-English),” he said. “The need to compete and excel motivated me and my family to work hard, persevere, and do our best in our academics and in our careers… We all sought and obtained higher education.” UBC granted ten post-secondary degrees to the Sayson siblings.

Winston also shared a memory from his early days in Canada. He said, “I recall an elder telling me that because I had black hair and brown eyes, I had better be prepared to work twice as hard to prove myself.”

And they did just that.

With a mixture of pride and joy, Winston shared, “Canada provided my family with many educational and career opportunities. [Today,] one of my sisters is a lawyer, another is a school principal, and another is a Certified General Accountant. One of my brothers is an English teacher, another is a commercial real estate broker, and the other is an award-winning videographer.”

Life in the Great White North
Aside from academic and career opportunities, Winston believes that “there are many good things about life in Canada.”

“The first thing I noticed when I came to Canada was the clean air of Vancouver, the abundance of clean and potable water, and the vastness of the land. I loved the changes that came with the four seasons,” Winston said.

“I appreciate the integrity of the police forces and our criminal justice system. I cherish and value the way the law is equally applied to all citizens. In fact, I have spent the last 26 years working as a prosecutor for the Criminal Justice Branch of the Ministry of Justice in British Columbia.”

Despite the many good things about life in the Great White North, Winston sometimes can’t help but miss Pinoy comforts like the glorious Filipino food and the warmth of his relatives.

“I miss the festivity and the wholehearted celebration of our ‘pasko’ (Christmas). I fondly remember the ubiquitous ‘parol’ (iconic star-shaped Christmas lantern), the crispy ‘lechon’ (roast pig), and the abundance of food and Filipino dessert during the Christmas season,” he said, a glint of longing visible in his eyes.

He continues, “I also miss the beautiful beaches and tropical fruits like the atis, star apple, lansones, and chico. Most significantly, I miss my relatives, the warmth of the Philippine culture, and the friendliness of the Filipino people.”

Being proud of his Filipino heritage, Winston strives to incorporate Pinoy values in his life and his family.

“I am proud to share my roots and heritage with others… I live out my heritage by respecting those who are older than me and those who are in positions of authority,” he said, recalling how he had to get used to calling his supervisors by their first names without using ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ that we Filipinos are so used to.

“I attend community events so that I can connect with the people around me. I participate and contribute to my chosen city, Richmond, by serving as a trustee in the Hospital & Health board, and the Coordinating Committee on Ethnic Relations,” he adds.

Winston also pointed out the easiest way to get in touch with his Pinoy roots.

“The easiest way to connect to my Filipino heritage is to go to the many Filipino restaurants around Metro Vancouver… You will be sure to find familiar food and many ‘kababayan’.”

According to Winston, he still has not outgrown Filipino mannerisms like pointing with his lips, getting another’s attention by saying “pssst!” and every now and then speaking in Taglish.

Family Photo: Crown Counsel Winston Sayson with wife Barbara Lisa and children Vincent, Brandon, and Kimberly.
Family Photo: Crown Counsel Winston Sayson with wife Barbara Lisa and children Vincent, Brandon, and Kimberly.

On Being a Man of the Law
After earning his political science degree in 1985, Winston knew he wanted to pursue a career in law.

“I decided that I would pursue a career using the skills and abilities that I had. I wanted to use the law to make my new country a better place,” he said.

However, getting into law school proved harder than he thought. After taking the Law School Admission Test, he scored poorly. On his second take, he got an even lower score. Determined to get into law school, he applied to all sixteen Canadian common law schools—all of which rejected his application. Despite the odds seemingly going against him, Winston’s ambition and determination did not waver.

“I hoped and prayed,” Winston recalled. “A few weeks before law school started, I got a call from the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia, my first choice of school. They said that someone had dropped out at the last minute. UBC asked if I wanted to take that position. I said, ‘Yes!’ My hope and prayers were answered.”

Today, Winston is a senior trial prosecutor based in the Surrey Crown Counsel office.  He has prosecuted many high-profile fatality cases and is known for his expertise in prosecuting crimes committed against children and other vulnerable victims.

“What I love most about my job are the opportunities for me to help victims of crimes and make a difference in their lives and in their recovery from their victimization,” Winston said. “I value the fact that I am in a position to mentor criminology students, articling students, and junior prosecutors. I am honored to have a role in helping make our community safer by getting dangerous criminals convicted and sentenced by the Courts,” he said, adding that his career has given him much personal growth and professional

In 2010, he was awarded the Criminal Justice System Leadership Award by the Police Victim Services of B.C. for his compassionate work with victims of crime.  In 2011, he was appointed a Queen’s Counsel by the Attorney General of B.C. in recognition of his exceptional merit and contribution to the legal profession.  Two years ago, he was presented the Long Service Award by the Province of British Columbia to commemorate 25 years of dedicated public service. Last year, he received the Recognizing Excellence Award from the Criminal Justice Branch (CJB) of the Ministry of Justice. His most recent award is the Vision Award from the International Association of Forensic Nurses for his leadership in teaching, supporting, and promoting the practice of Forensic Nursing in the context of sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.

Despite numerous accolades, Winston still finds parts of his job difficult.

“The challenging part of my job is to constantly witness the brutality and viciousness of crimes committed against children and other vulnerable victims,” he somberly shared. “Every time I see an image of child abuse or similar materials, my soul aches. It is disturbing to see the evil and monstrous acts that people commit against others.”

Challenging and heartbreaking as it is, Winston uses these crimes to fuel his passion for helping build a safer country and helping victims of crime.

The Five E’s
For those who are planning to move to Canada—and even for those who have recently landed in the Great White North—Winston shares five E’s that can guide your transition.

He believes in five key elements that contribute to the successful integration of a new life in Canada: English, Education, Employment, Engagement with Community, and Excellence.

English (or French): Learn and strive to communicate clearly and effectively in English. Work on your accent and pronunciation. The ability to speak and write well in English is crucial;

Education: Make it a priority to seek and obtain higher education. This will require financial sacrifices and even help from others. Education and the skilled trades will open career doors for you; Identify and recognize your strengths and skill set; seek to
improve them through courses and training.

Employment:  To get Canadian experience, be willing to volunteer or start with a lower position if you cannot find a job in your field or level. Seek mentorship from those already in the field. Work hard, be loyal, and prove yourself to your employer by the quality of your work. Strive to be an expert in your area of work;

Engagement: Make the time and effort to connect and contribute to your community. There are many volunteer positions available. Reaching out and helping others enriches your life and those that receive your kindness. Your faith community and churches are a rich source of support. Value and cherish your family.  Commit to make Canada a better place.

Excellence:  Always commit to give your best effort at school or at work.  Be the best that you can through hard work and diligence.”

Winston acknowledges his roots and the Christian education that he received in the Philippines.  “I am grateful for my parents, my family, and most important of all, my God for a blessed life in the Philippines and Canada.  I hope that my story will encourage all my kababayan to strive for excellence.”