A Crown Counsel, an actor, and nurse-educator are among those with inspiring stories
By Charmaine Y. Rodriguez
Three outstanding Filipino-Canadians made it to this year’s Top 25 Immigrants in Canada.
Multi-awarded retired B.C. Trial Crown Counsel Winston Sayson, comedian and actor Ann Pornel and Registered Nurse, academic and researcher Edward Cruz were among the immigrants with inspiring stories from diverse cultures and backgrounds across Canada.
Presented by Western Union and sponsored by COSTI Immigrant Services and Windmill Microlending, the Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards is organized by online magazine canadianimmigrant.ca.
This year’s list includes a film star/vegan advocate, a Juno-nominated songwriter who writes songs to empower, a Canadian football MVP, as well as many diverse community champions working tirelessly to do good.
Sayson was a humanities freshman at the University of the Philippines when his family moved to Canada in 1981, according to an ABS-CBN report.
His family was among the affluent Filipino-Chinese family back then but they left the country after his father was jailed during Martial Law.
In Canada, Sayson worked and studied at the same time until he became a lawyer in 1989. His 30-year service as a Crown Prosecutor saw him handling violent crimes against children and vulnerable victims, and vehicular fatalities.
But these cases took a toll on his mental health, which led to his retirement in 2019.
“An important attribute that helped me succeed was my desire and deliberate intention to help make Canada a better place,” he told canadianimmigrant.ca.
However, when Sayson and his family first arrived in Canada, he remembers being met with racist comments like “Go back to China.” “In my moments of self-doubt, I wondered what else I must do to be welcomed in my own chosen country.”
Believing that such racism was the exception in a country known for its generosity and diversity, Sayson stayed focused on doing good in his community of Richmond, B.C., at his church and in his successful career as a trial Crown Counsel with the British Columbia Prosecution Service, now retired.
Sayson is the first Filipino-Canadian appointed as Queen’s Counsel of British Columbia for his exceptional merit and contribution to the legal profession.
He was also among the recipients of the Medal of Good Citizenship in B.C. In 2022 for his outstanding service to the community.
For Toronto-based performer, Pornel, it is very important to “Find a community where you feel supported, respected and heard. Follow the fun and lead with kindness.”
She is most known as co-host of The Great Canadian Baking Show, for which she was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best Host or Presenter in 2022 and 2023.
An alumna of the Second City Toronto Main Stage, Pornel has also appeared and written on award-winning Canadian shows such as The Baroness Von Sketch Show, The Beaverton and This Hour Has 22 Minutes. She offers up unique perspectives on diversity, body image and inclusion in her comedy, which have garnered her comedy awards and spots at NBC’s Break Out Comedy Festival and JFL 42.
“Immigrating as a child, the first memory I had was wanting to fit in by any means necessary,” Pornel says. As she grew older, she recognized how important and special it is to keep a connection to her culture and share that with others through her comedy.
“Every type of story is important to tell, but our media has a tendency to focus on stories of pain and suffering. It’s important to me to show the joy of being a fat Filipina woman, because I never saw that growing up on screens,” she says.
“I never thought I could have the career and life that I have now. I want to show people that you can achieve greatness, sometimes beyond your own imagination, even if it might not fit into the plans your hardworking immigrant families had for you.”
Next up, Pornel will star on her first American show, called Recipe for Disaster in August. “It’s another cooking competition show, but much sillier and much more chaotic,” she says. “The best part of being a comedian is sharing laughter and joy and showing common experiences.”
For his part, Cruz credits perseverance and self-direction for achieving what he has today as a researcher and associate professor at the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Nursing. “I recently received tenure and a promotion,” he said. “In this role, I teach both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, supervise student research, as well as conduct research with my colleagues. Despite the rejections and disappointment I’ve faced over the years, I continued to strive hard to achieve what I wanted to do.”
And it’s his mission to help other internationally educated nurses (IENs) do the same. He is co-chair of the Partners in Integration and Education of IENs, supports IEN bridging initiatives by the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing, and is on the project steering committee of CARE Centre for IENs. He is also chair of the National Nursing Assessment Service’s education review advisory committee and co-chair for the National Newcomer Navigation Network’s IEN Community of Practice working group.
Like so many other internationally trained professionals, Cruz’s biggest challenge in his Canadian immigration journey was getting his credentials — a bachelor of science in nursing, a PhD in education from the Philippines and a second PhD from Japan — recognized. “In applying for academic positions with universities in the Greater Toronto Area after arriving in Canada, I didn’t even get any interviews.”
“Have some sense of self-direction as you go through your journey. While it is easier to get information from friends and relatives, it is more empowering to seek out firsthand information directly from the source to ensure that you are getting timely and accurate information to help you achieve your goals in life. Seek out mentors who can guide and support you. Be open to learning new ways of thinking and doing things. Finally, always be thankful to those who you will meet and who will contribute to your journey in Canada,” he added.