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By Hon. David Kilgour
Consultation of Lausanne Diasporas Leadership, The Asian Theological seminary
and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches
Greenhills Christian Fellowship Church,
5th May, 2009

This faith-centred consultation on migrating populations is important, especially in the current world economic situation. My focus is on Filipinos--who are reportedly leaving this country today at the rate of about 3000 persons daily--but it applies to a greater or lesser degree to many other diasporas. Some receiving countries welcome them; most do not. There are currently about eleven million in the Filipino diaspora living in approximately 200 countries.

Canada’s bilateral relations with the Philippines are friendly and marked by close cooperation in a variety of areas:

  • We work with its government, civil society and international organizations to promote good governance, rule of law, peace, and dignity for all in the Philippines,
  • Canada supports good governance through the McLuhan Award for investigative journalism, which sends annually a top Philippine journalist on a two-week speaking tour of Canada followed by speaking engagements in the Philippines.
  • Canada works closely with the government to build partnerships and improve training to advance security sector reforms.
  • Both countries work at the United Nations to promote greater human security and improved global standards of living.
  • Canada cooperates as an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Dialogue Partner, and both are active participants in the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) Forum, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

Filipinos in Canada

Filipinos, however, do far more for Canadians than we do for them. Among many indications are the several hundred experienced nurses, whose training was at least partly paid for by taxpayers here, which the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan have recruited here in recent years.

The Filipino community was quite small until the late 20th century, but there are currently about 450,000 living across Canada. They are now the third-largest Asian-Canadian group after the Indian and Chinese communities. Between 2001 and 2006, the Filipino community in Canada grew from 308,000 to 410,000 and is probably about 40,000 larger today with new arrivals since. Recently, the Philippines overtook China as our largest source country if one includes temporary workers with immigrants.

The reason Canadians are so welcoming of Filipino newcomers in my opinion is primarily because from the first to the most recent arriving they have been excellent citizens and neighbours. An interesting observation has been made that Filipinos have a strong tendency to remain where they first settle in Canada, unlike many others, who leave smaller cities to move to larger ones. This phenomenon makes Filipinos reliable long term neighbours, friends and employees.

Filipinos living in Canada have high levels of education. Among Canada's Non-European-Origin (N-E-O) groups, Filipinos rank second in terms of the proportion of the population having earned a bachelor’s degree or higher and ranked first in terms of the percentage of the population with more than grade 13. Approximately 31% of Filipinos have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to only 14% of the European-origin (E-O) population and 24% of the overall N-E-O population.

The fields of study most popular among Filipinos are commerce, management and business administration (27%), health professions, sciences and technologies (22%), engineering and applied sciences technologies and trades (13%) and engineering and applied sciences (10%). These four fields made up almost three quarters of Filipinos who went beyond secondary school education to achieve a degree, certificate or diploma. In spite of this high level of education, however, the proportion of Filipinos in professional occupations (12%) was below that observed for both the E-O population (15%) and the overall N-E-O population (17%).

According to Professor Philip Kelly of York University: "On arrival, Filipino immigrants tend to have high levels of education as well as less tangible forms of cultural preparedness, such as high levels of English language competency. Overall, these assets have resulted in a relatively successful integration, both into the social fabric of Canadian cities and into formal employment. Filipinos have very high levels of participation in the labour force, low levels of unemployment and welfare claims, and a low incidence of self-employment. "

Sense of Belonging

Filipinos had the highest newcomer participation rate in the labour force and the lowest unemployment rate among all Non-European Origin immigrant groups. Their participation rate (76%) was considerably higher than that of the European-origin population (66.5%). Their unemployment rate was exceptionally low (5.6%) compared to that of the E-O minority population (7.1%).

Canadians of Philippines origin are active in their communities. A Stats Can study indicated that eighty per cent of Filipinos intend to become citizens six months after landing. An Ethnic Diversity Survey reported that a large majority, almost eight in ten, of Canadians of Filipino origin feel a strong sense of belonging to Canada. In 2002, almost three quarters of those who were eligible to vote reported doing so in the 2000 federal election, while about the same percentage said they voted in the last provincial election. As the former MP for Edmonton - Mill Woods - Beaumont, many constituents of Filipino origin volunteered in the eight election campaigns I participated in and others gave sound advice while I served as the Secretary of State ( Asia-Pacific).

More than four in ten reported that they had participated in an organization such as a sports team or community association in the twelve months preceding the survey. Many Filipino-Canadian politicians, entertainers, journalists, artists , writers and athletes have contributed to Canada's economic, cultural, social and other endeavours at home and internationally.

Almost ninety per cent said that they had a strong sense of belonging to their ethnic or cultural group, which partially explains the enormous contribution they make to the economy of Philippines through their remittances. I have been told that Filipinos working abroad are now sending back officially about $14 billion yearly in remittances to family members 'at home'. If unofficial sums are added in, the total is probably closer to $20 billion. It should be mentioned that these sums come from what is left after income and other taxes are paid in Canada.

Let me relay a message from the Philippines Ambassador to Canada, Jose Brillantes, who stresses that the constitution of this country requires its government to give high priority to the care and well-being of Filipinos working outside this country. All of the offices in Canada, for example (Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver), and the honourary consulates in St. John's, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Calgary are there to give priority to any problems one might have.


Canada became the first country to declare in 1971 multiculturalism as national government policy. In 1988, both Houses of Parliament unanimously passed the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and we became as well the first to legislate specific goals for cultural harmony. The two initiatives put Canadians on a road, albeit one having some bumps, towards a vibrant and constantly changing cultural mosaic, premised on mutual and equal respect for Canadians of every background.

The antecedents of the policy are our three founding cultures — indigenous, French and British — which were joined by many others from around the globe. Today, multiculturalism is a touchstone of our national identity and a point of pride for virtually all Canadians.

Unlike many countries in Asia, Canada is a young civilization. Aside from our First Peoples population, we are a land of immigrants. While countries like yours can pride itself on your history and roots back almost literally to the dawn of civilization, Canada's chronology is somewhat different. Many believe that even our First Nations migrated from Asia thousands of years ago.

This history shapes our approach toward important issues like immigration and social cohesion. Many Canadians need only look back one or two generations to find family roots on another continent or in another country, including those from the Philippines.

Our geographic location, relatively isolated from the rest of the world, the reality that the only border we share is with the United States, and the fact that Canada has few enemies and many friends around the world, all contribute to our unique approach to many issues, such as the importance of equal dignity and the rule of law for all.

We have had since the 1960s an openness to immigration and a tradition of welcoming people from around the world. This generates major advantages, both culturally and economically. Canada’s economic prosperity now depends on our diversity.

For example, Bill Gates, the former chair of Microsoft, frustrated by what he saw as restrictive immigration policies in the United States Congress, decided some years ago to expand the company's key research and development operations in Canada. It opened an office in Richmond, British Columbia, which is just a two and a half hour drive to Redmond, Washington, where Microsoft conducts 85 percent of its core software development. Today, Microsoft’s Richmond facility is home to over 100 engineers from 26 different countries, “the U.N. of tech" in the words of Parminder Singh, the managing director of the facility.

Cultural Adjustments

Multiculturalism ideally is the harmonious co-existence of different cultures as equals in one society. It entails the acceptance of minority cultural traditions by society at large, and the adoption of features of longer-established ones by newer Canadians. Multiculturalism is not only acceptance, but also the celebration of differences.

Canada bears the imprint of many different communities, each of which in their own way molded our national character. It also has the values, ways of thinking and living inspired by numerous religions. We owe our roots to a pluralist religious education based on various concepts and attendant ethical systems. I pay tribute here to those many pioneers who, basing their work on the tested values of various spiritual traditions, founded towns, cities, universities, a host of other institutions and breathed into them the inspiration that sustains them still.

One challenge is the balance needed to accommodate newcomer cultures and ensuring a continued shared belief in the values that distinguish our rule of law society. These are the principles at the core of our democracy. While we encourage newcomers to understand what our country is, we also strive to maintain the creative energy upon which it is founded.

Interfaith dialogue is essential to build a harmonious community in Canada. Any social inclusion agenda should include support for the very important interfaith work now being done in Canada and internationally. It is also about deepening our understanding of other’s faiths. The presence of numerous faith communities provides opportunities for enhanced mutual understanding among religions and helps to promote a culture of dialogue and mutual respect.

Spiritual Diversity

Ours is a country where a majority of people profess a religious faith. While secularism is also an important tradition, no-one should underestimate the role of religion in the lives of many Canadians. We must seek harmony and understanding between people of all faiths as well as the large number of Canadians who are not religious.

The 2001 national census by Statistics Canada dealt in part with the state of religion across the country; its conclusions released in mid-2003 provide many interesting insights. Despite large immigration from mostly non-Christian countries since the 1970s, seven out of ten Canadians as of five years ago still identified themselves as Catholic or Protestant. Almost 13 million claimed to be Catholic; 8.7 million self-identified as Protestants. Those who said that they were simply "Christian" more than doubled from the 1991 census to 784,000.

The denominational patterns among Protestants are mixed in part, concludes Stats Can, because their members are mostly descendants of immigrants who arrived before 1961. Between the 1991 and 2001 censuses, Baptists increased by a tenth to 729,500 across the country. The number of United Church adherents today is 2.8 million; Anglicans-two million; Presbyterians-409,800. Pentecostals-369,500. Lutherans-606,600.

Just over seven in ten Canadians nationally continue to believe in God. The Project Canada survey conducted by Reg Bibby found that about seventy percent of Canadians across the land, as of 1990, believed there is life after death, with only fourteen percent ruling out the possibility completely. The same percentage—seventy percent—said that there is a heaven and almost half—46 percent—of Canadians say there is a hell.

In 2001, sixteen percent of Canadians, or about 4.8 million individuals, reported having no religion. The country of origin was no doubt a factor because a fifth of the immigrants who came to Canada between 1991 and 2001 reported having no religion, particularly those born in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Interestingly, males were more likely to report no religion than females. The jurisdictions with the highest proportion of "none" were Yukon (37 percent), British Columbia (35 percent), and Alberta (23 percent), which contrasted noticeably to Newfoundland and Labrador (two percent) and Quebec (six percent).

Statistics Canada went further to sample persons over fifteen living in private households in all ten provinces on their frequency of attendance at religious services. Nationally, one-fifth of those sampled—or about 6.4 million individuals, assuming, no doubt to err on the high side, that the same attendance level applies to those under fifteen as over—attend religious services on a weekly basis. Even if there is exaggeration in the total of those reporting weekly attendance, no other voluntary activity across the country would appear to attract anything like this number of regular participants. Most of our media unfortunately continue to overlook this phenomenon.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “unless we learn to live together as brothers [ and sisters] we will die together as fools.” In building stronger relationships and a deeper level of respect and understanding among other faith communities and persons of different languages and cultures, one does not need to sacrifice beliefs; instead, we should view it as an opportunity to enrich our faiths. People with whom we rub shoulders ought to see in us God’s message of kindness and unconditional love for humankind. One does not need to travel abroad to make a useful contribution towards inter-faith dialogue. As a community, inter-faith dialogue needs to begin at home.

Opportunities / Challenges for Newcomers

Canada's continued prosperity relies on its people, including immigrants, among whom there is an increasing number of N-E-O. The rapid growth of this population is changing the face of Canada as they are making a major difference to our quality of life and our economic well-being as a nation. Our challenge is to ensure that we remove any barriers to the full participation of immigrants, including N-E-Os, and allow them to fully apply their skills, experiences and abilities. The economic and social integration of immigrants is an important objective of any Canadian government.

There are many advantages enjoyed by all immigrants to Canada:

  • Immigrants can become citizens who have the right to vote and run for office at all levels of government, rights not afforded to people in many other parts of the world. For example, my former colleague, Rey Pagtakhan, a physician and professor, successfully ran and served for 16 years as the first Filipino-Canadian member of parliament and several years as first Filipino-Canadian Cabinet minister.
  • The government provides a variety of language and skills training to immigrants to facilitate integration;
  • Immigrants, once landed, enjoy the same rights as citizens to social benefits such as employment insurance, health care, pension, old age income assistance, child benefits, etc.
  • Children of immigrants have equal access to publicly-funded education;
  • Immigrants can choose to live in any community in a country consistently considered by the United Nations as one of the best in quality of life.

Most immigrants to Canada rate finding work as their top priority. As Canada has recently concentrated on attracting immigrants who have a high level of education and previous experience in the labour market, ensuring that immigrants find appropriate work is a major priority for Canada too. However, immigrants face formidable challenges as successful transitions into the Canadian labour market remain elusive for many whose skills, knowledge and experience are too frequently under-used.

For example, several studies have shown that new immigrants face more significant barriers to labour market integration than do other working-age Canadians, and that they are at greater risk of experiencing poverty. Some researchers have also demonstrated that the economic difficulties encountered by recent immigrants became more important in the nineties than in previous decades.

Studies indicate that the economic returns to human capital, especially education, appears to be lower for immigrants than those born in the country. Specifically, even though the levels of human capital of immigrants, such as years of schooling, degrees held, and years of experience, are often higher than for similar native-born Canadians, the economic rewards that the foreign-born receive for these skills is lower.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, immigrants have lower incomes due to transition difficulties, including insufficient working knowledge of English and French; inadequate recognition of their educational credentials; and, possibly, discrimination.

It is widely agreed that three most important factors in finding appropriate employment are education, language skills, and prior relevant experience. It appears that in today’s marketplace, employers are sometimes unable to properly assess these factors when screening internationally trained applicants into jobs, and immigrants are having difficulties promoting themselves as having the appropriate skills for jobs that are available.

Across Canada, governments and non-government organizations, as well as post secondary education institutions, offer programs that have been specifically designed to assist immigrants find employment. More recently, programs have been specifically designed to assist highly trained professionals find work best suited to their expertise.

In addition to education, language, skills and prior experience, successful immigrants point to the following as among the reasons:

  • belief in our essential values - democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for our country and its shared heritage ,
  • active participation in the civil society as volunteers, facilitators, mentors, etc. , and
  • regarding as fully equal members of the wider community beyond one's own ethnic, religious or cultural group.

For immigrants, being Canadian means building new identities that marry their own , often long-standing, racial, cultural and religious heritage, with the perhaps innocent wonderment of a young country with its values centred on the ideals and human pursuit of equality and the rule of law.


With the aging of the baby boomer generation and a declining birth rate, the already intense competition for talent in the global marketplace is escalating despite of the temporary economic challenges we are currently facing. The Philippines is one of the largest exporters of skilled and unskilled labor, with more than one million overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs, in host destinations in 2007, most of them in medical and health, information and technology, and the services sectors. About eight million Filipinos, or ten per cent of the population, are working abroad. Their remittances last year were estimated at about ten per cent of the GDP of the Philippines.

Immigrants, including those from the Philippines, have made major contributions to Canada's past and will continue to make our country more vibrant, sustainable and one of the most welcoming in the world.

My personal encounters with Filipinos in Canada convince me that you have made unique contributions and will continue to do so. Filipinos in Canada and no doubt everywhere are known for being caring, quiet, calm, pleasant, truthful, dedicated, kind, compassionate as well as hard working. These are the qualities that make them welcome additions to any country they migrate to; Canada has certainly benefited greatly from these qualities. Our debt is enormous.

I would like to conclude by quoting President Barack Obama: " We have a stake in one another ... what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and ... if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done for the people with whom we share this Earth."

As we move forward as members of a world where migration is increasingly an inevitable trend, where countries are increasingly becoming multicultural, we continue to be enriched by our diversity. We must also continue to strive for our common aspirations for a better world, a world where we celebrate our differences and where we are united by our common humanity.

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