Prominent Crown Counsel Winston Sayson is the first Chinese-Filipino Canadian appointed as Queen’s Counsel in British Columbia, a designation he received in recognition of “exceptional merit and contribution to the legal profession.” Born and raised in the Philippines, Sayson immigrated to Canada in 1981 at the age of 18. As new immigrants, the Sayson family encountered their share of challenges, yet it is precisely these challenges that brought their family closer together, as well as strengthening Sayson’s determination and perseverance.
Early on, Sayson had a passion for using the law to make lives better for other people, in part because he came from a country where the rule of a dictator, under martial law, resulted in his father being jailed in a stockade without any lawful charges. Upon arriving in Canada, Sayson enrolled in the university transfer program at Kwantlen College, eventually transferring into the Bachelor of Arts program at the University of British Columbia (“UBC”) in 1983. He majored in political science because he felt this discipline had a natural fit with the study of law.
“The thought of entering the legal profession, where high proficiency in the English language is a prerequisite, was intimidating for me,” explains Sayson. “After I graduated with my political science degree, I was even more resolved to study law, and more specifically to become a prosecutor. As I became more comfortable and confident in my ability to use the English language, [law school] became more of a viable option. "
Yet the path to law school was a rocky one. Sayson wrote the Law School Admission Test twice, only to have scored lower on his second attempt. He applied to all the 16 common law schools in Canada (at that time), embarking on a rigorous process of writing letters and sending in applications by mail. All of these schools sent Sayson a rejection letter. Yet Sayson persevered, and fortunately, just before law school started in September 1985, he received a phone call from UBC Law – his first choice of law school – offering him a spot in the program.
“You cannot imagine how excited I was to receive that phone call, being accepted into UBC Law, after having received 16 letters of rejection,” shares Sayson. “The opportunity presented by UBC opened doors for me that would otherwise have been closed: the opportunity to become a lawyer and a Crown Counsel. I am where I am today because UBC took a chance on me.”
One of Sayson’s prized purchases as a law student was a jacket emblazoned with the UBC Law logo, which he wore proudly. Sayson also recalls going to the Law Faculty’s Distribution Center to pick up a large pile of photocopied case law and course readings. The sheer amount of work ahead as well as the caliber of fellow law students was initially daunting for Sayson. It was not long, however, before the feeling of intimidation passed, as Sayson began to feel a sense of gratefulness just to be in a school where the faculty members were dedicated to instruct and equip the students to become lawyers. He appreciates that UBC trained and prepared him well for a career in law by developing intellectual discipline, innovative thinking, and applying logic, reason and precedents in solving problems.
With the goal of being a prosecutor in mind, Sayson took every course or seminar in school that contained the words “criminal law.” But he also recognized that being well trained in law meant having broader foundational knowledge. Sayson also enrolled in black letter law classes such as business associations and taxation. He appreciated the extensive course offerings at UBC because he was exposed to the diversity and the various skill sets and knowledge required to excel in the practice of law.
Sayson was also involved in a number of extracurricular activities while in law school, such as the Christian Legal Fellowship, the Criminal Law Program, and the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program (“LSLAP”). In particular, Sayson credits LSLAP for providing him with exposure to the practice of law, such as the process of going to court, as well as dealing with counsel, clients, witnesses, accused persons, and victims.
“I appreciated the patient guidance and wisdom of Jim Pozer, the supervising lawyer of the program. Being able to be involved in LSLAP really helped to balance out the study of substantive law,” shares Sayson.
Sayson feels blessed that his single-minded purpose and goal to become a prosecutor was realized. In 1988, Sayson began articling with the Legal Services Branch of the Ministry of Attorney General (the “Ministry”, now known as the Ministry of Justice) in Victoria. During his articles, Sayson spent most of his time working in the Criminal Justice Branch (“CJB”) of the Ministry. After articles ended, he was hired back as a prosecutor for the Fraser Region of the CJB. Sayson is the first Chinese-Filipino Canadian to become a prosecutor in the Fraser Region.
Today, Sayson is a senior trial prosecutor. He has continuously prosecuted significant and high profile cases in the CJB, and is highly regarded for his expertise in dealing with children and vulnerable victims. Sayson mainly works on files dealing with violence or sexual abuse of vulnerable victims, as well as vehicular fatalities.
“I fell into this specialization within criminal law in part because of my desire and interest in helping victims of crime – this is the main motivator for me. I am using the law to advance and protect the rights of victims of crime, while at the same time respecting the rights of accused persons,” explains Sayson. “It is the law that permits me to prosecute someone for victimizing a child; it is the law that permits me to seek a jail sentence isolating criminals from society in order to protect the public.”
Outside of law, Sayson has also served as a Board Trustee for the Richmond Hospital, a director for the Richmond Health Board, and as a member of Richmond’s Coordinating Committee on Ethnic Relations, among other community and church-related services. He is a member of the B.C. chapter of the Federation of Asian-Canadian Lawyers. He trains in Filipino Martial arts.
Besides being appointed Queen’s Counsel by the Attorney General of B.C. in 2011, Sayson has also received a number of other awards. In 2010, Sayson was awarded the Criminal Justice System Leadership Award by Police Victim Services of B.C. to recognize his compassionate work with victims of crimes and their families. In 2013, Sayson was presented with a 25-year Long Service Award by the Province of British Columbia in acknowledgement of his integrity, loyalty, and conscientious performance of duty. In 2014, Sayson was presented with the Recognizing Excellence Award from the Criminal Justice Branch of the Ministry. He is an ambassador for the CJB, having represented the Ministry on the Canada-China Procuratorate Reform Cooperation Project with the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy. In 2015, the International Association of Forensic Nurses presented Sayson with the Vision Award in recognition of his leadership in teaching, supporting, and promoting the practice of Forensic Nursing in the context of sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.
“I am deeply grateful to UBC for opening doors for me. It has given me the skill set and knowledge to do what I do today, which is to serve my new country and contribute to my community in my role as a prosecutor.”