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Lack of Filipino lawyers: Contributing factors | Warren Urquhart

Tuesday, July 28, 2020 @ 10:29 AM | By Warren Urquhart

Warren Urquhart %>
Warren Urquhart
As discussed in part one of this series, the state of Filipino representation in Ontario is abysmal. Filipinos are fourth largest immigrant group in Ontario. The number of Filipino lawyers is statistically insignificant to the point that we do not get our own row in the Law Society of Ontario’s annual reporting chart of racialized lawyers. We’re grouped with our Japanese and Korean colleagues under “East Asians” — an amount in 2016 that was 1.3 per cent of lawyers, about half of the total share Filipinos have in Ontario’s population.

We lack lawyers. Why?

To explain the exact causes of our invisibility in the legal community and society can involve examining not just recent decades of North American and Asian politics, but the entire history of the Philippines. However, by looking at a few crucial data points and facts about the Filipino experience, a picture can be painted about how so many of us are still invisible.

An important factor in the state of affairs for Filipinos in Canada and the world is our unique immigration pattern. As discussed in Filipinos in Canada: Disturbing Invisibility (edited by Roland Sintos Coloma et al.), “The migration of Filipina/os to Canada has followed a pattern different from that of other immigrant groups. Filipina/os in Canada are predominantly recent immigrants. … Less than 5 percent of the population arrived prior to 1970, and in 2001 over half of all Filipinas in Canada had arrived in the previous years.”

Filipinos in Canada also notes that in the various Filipino migration waves to Canada, the majority (60 per cent from 1980-2001) have been women. While the first wave of Filipinos primarily found “white-collar” and “middle class” jobs, the larger movements that came after were mainly those who would find employment in working class roles.

Many of those who became the working class in Canada were upper-class professionals such as nurses, office workers and graduate students in the Philippines. They came to Canada through the Live-In Caregiver Program (note: this program is now closed to new applicants), hoping to make an honest living and then transition to their first career. However, they found that these hopes were often dashed.

These Filipinos find that the promise of social mobility in Canada does not apply to them; they find themselves stuck in working class jobs, many of which are caregiver positions that pay less than the immense value they provide. We know that Ontario has the largest number of Filipinos in any province and that Toronto has the highest number of Filipinos in any metropolitan area.

We also know, by looking at the latest annual law school tuition of the University of Toronto (more than $34,000), Osgoode Hall (over $24,000, please enjoy my cheque) and Ryerson (over $21,000), that the cost of legal education is not working class accessible. Let’s talk about rent in the Greater Toronto Area on another day.

High costs are a barrier to social mobility for Filipinos, but also a barrier to anyone with a working class income. For the Filipino experience, our migration journey creates a diaspora that embeds trauma. With the majority of Filipino migrants being women, Filipinos in Canada notes that “migration inevitably bring[s] to the fore gender concerns.

Gender concerns are linked to the forms that youth concerns take as well; for example, youth problems stemming from family separation and family reunification when women act as the primary wage earners but are kept apart and then reunited with their families.”

For Filipinos, your family making ends meet might mean not seeing your mother, for easily a decade. This traumatic separation is influenced by policy. Many Filipinos came to Canada through the Live-In Caregiver Visa, and the visa has a “guarantee of eventual pathways to permanent residence and family reunification … thousands of … Filipino parents have their children denied access to Canada.”

While there are signs of small reform, such as caregiver pilot programs, overall, the current system keeps Filipinos from their families, perpetuating a familiar cycle of trauma.

This trauma manifests itself in ways that affect our livelihoods. A paper analyzing the 2016 census found that Filipino men are less likely to surpass their parents’ education level and second-generation Filipino men “exhibit little educational mobility and low earnings.” Many of our men are stalled.

Many of our women shoulder the burden of being breadwinners to families across the globe. In 2017, Filipinos sent more money abroad to families than any other group. The Live-In Caregiver Program, which is over 90 per cent Filipino (many of whom are recruited), carries a promise of family reunification that is fulfilled years late.

We suffer from policy-related problems that need lawyers and federal representatives to fix. Yet we have so few lawyers and no members of Parliament from our community to aid us. Year after year, the Philippines is in the top three, or even the number one source of immigrants to Canada. Canada wants us here, just not enough to help us get to the top.

This is part two of a two-part series. Read part one: Where are the Filipino lawyers?

Warren Urquhart is entering his second year at Osgoode Hall Law School. He’s a freelance writer and ex-cloud consultant. You can reach him via LinkedIn and Medium.

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