Winston Sayson is a prosecutor. He emigrated from the Philippines at the age of 17. His first job in Canada was selling encyclopedias door-to-door. He was not very good at it—he did not sell a single volume. Now, Winston is a Crown Counsel well-known for prosecuting some of Surrey’s highest profile cases, including violent crimes against women and children.
He values equality, safety, and justice for all. His values inspired him to become a lawyer in Canada. As he recalls the situation in some countries, Winston says, “I have seen some people living above the law, and some people living below the law—and not receiving equal benefit of the law. I want to be a part of a country where everybody is equal in the eyes of the law.”
But it is his care and compassion for victims of crime—many of whom are women and children—that make Winston really good at what he does. At times, however, he sounds more like a counsellor than a prosecutor.
Winston says, “It is important to be compassionate and supportive toward victims of crimes. Frequently, victims are threatened, traumatized, and in some cases terrorized. What I do first is seek to understand their fears, hurts, and where they are coming from. You have to let the victims know that you care and help them through the court process by preparing them to give compelling and credible evidence. I then prepare them for the verdict.”
Winston acknowledges that, “my case is only as good as my witnesses, and so I take care of the witnesses—I need to look out for their needs, their fears, and address their concerns.” This includes taking evening classes at the local university “to become a better helper and prosecutor.” In his role as Crown Counsel, Winston says, “many times, I find myself in a role similar to that of a counsellor when speaking to victims of crime. But I found that I needed more training. So I went back to university to obtain a ‘Citation in Counselling Skills’ and learned to become a more effective listener and communicator.”
In order to build a compelling case, Winston discusses the importance of listening carefully to survivors of violence. “I identify the barriers to them being effective witnesses in court. That comes from listening, sincere empathy, and earning the trust of the person in front of you. Take for example, a victim of domestic violence—she does not speak English—she is fearful of the system because she came from a country where powerful men make the decisions—it is very important for me to take the time to get to know her, her background, her education, her financial situation, before I start talking about the evidence.
“There are many potential barriers to a victim testifying freely and truthfully. She may be scared of deportation; she may fear the ‘shame’ from her community; she may be scared that going to court may cost her financially and result in economic hardship for her and her children; or she may fear more violence and reprisals from the offender. These barriers are present, whether you talk about it or not. You might as well talk about it and address them to the best of your abilities.”
Despite the supportive role Winston plays as a prosecutor, he represents the Crown and the Attorney-General. “Because Crown Counsels are not the victims’ lawyers, it is best to have victim services workers (VSW) provide emotional support and court accompaniment. This avoids the blurring of the role of a prosecutor,” says Winston.
“Surrey Women’s Centre offers specialized victim services for women and children. This is a valuable service not only to the victims, but to the Crown and ultimately, the entire community,” says Winston, “because Surrey Women’s Centre workers, police-based VSW, and court-based VSW are specially trained and dedicated professionals—they are valuable and indispensable in the administration of criminal justice.”
Winston has earned many awards and accolades, including the honorary title of Queen’s Counsel (Q.C.) to recognize his contribution to the legal profession and his passionate work with victims of crimes. In 2010, he received the Criminal Justice System Leadership Award from the Police Victim Services of B.C. Looking back at his career, Winston advises others to “surround yourself with people who motivate and inspire you.”
But it is a box full of thank you cards from victims of crimes and their families that he holds closest to his heart…
Recently, Winston was encouraged and inspired by the words of a young lady who testified against her stepfather after years of physical and sexual abuse. The abuser was later convicted and sentenced to 6 years’ imprisonment. Thinking of Winston and his support throughout a long and grueling trial, she writes:
He put out his hand
And saved me from drowning
It was the first time I could breathe.
Both humbled and honoured, Winston says, “It is not about me.” In cases of violence against women and children, Winston does not define success by guilty pleas or convictions. “The best measure of success,” he says, “is when we see victims of crime freed from a life of abuse and suffering. When we see survivors of crime courageously pull themselves up, move forward with their healing and become whole again…that is success!”