BRAMPTON, Ontario — Milagros Eustaquio-Syme, a justice of the peace in Ontario, is one of 100 most influential Filipino women in the world, according to the Filipina Women’s Network (FWN).
The award recognizes “women of Philippine ancestry who are influencing the face of leadership in the global workplace, having reached status for outstanding work in their respective professions, industries, and communities….. for their achievement and contributions to society, femtorship (female mentoring), and legacy,” according to the group led by founder and CEO Marily Mondejar, and President Susan Quesada.
Syme’s award in the “policymaker and visionary” category will be presented to her at the 14th Filipina Leadership Global Summit on October 25-29, 2017, at the Intercontinental Toronto Center. The theme for this year’s summit is “Filipinas in Motion: Leading, Advocating, Impacting.”
Mondejar and Quesada explain that the “policymaker and visionary award” recognizes Filipina women leaders who have demonstrated exceptional acumen combined with a forward-looking vision in the development or influencing of policies, campaigns or laws that impact business, industry and society.
They are leaders who enrich the lives, careers and businesses of others, share the benefits of their wealth, experience, knowledge and actions that “significantly change how we think and live.”
Previous awardees of FWN’s 100 Most Influential Women of the World include California Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil -Sakuaye, Charles Schwab Investments CEO Evelyn Dilsaver, Western Union Senior VP Patricia Ringen, and four Rear Admirals in the United States Navy, namely Connie Mariano, Raquel Bono, Eleanor Valentin, and Bebette Bolivar.
Syme’s contribution to the Filipino Canadian community started way back in the mid-1980s. In 1986, she was the founder and first president of the Network of Filipino Canadian Women, when she went to bat for women victims of domestic violence.
Her organization also made the government aware of the uncertain status of domestic live-in workers after their contracts were over. Dependent on their employers for status, the caregivers prefer to remain quiet even if subjected to employer violence and unfair labor practices, because they have families at home relying on the support they send monthly.
“We also dealt with problems associated with mail order brides, who were fearful of reporting domestic abuse to the authorities as the husbands may retaliate and get them deported, on the basis of the husbands’ accusing them of using the husbands solely to obtain landed immigrant status,” she adds.
“With other groups like the Canadian Ethnocultural Council (an umbrella organization of 54 ethnic groups in Canada) and Intercede, for example, we lobbied the then-federal Minister of Immigration, the Ontario Minister responsible for the Status of Women, and the Ontario Women’s Directorate regarding these issues,” Syme states.
“And now we are happy to report that domestic workers enjoy regular working hours, are paid overtime if they work more than the statutory hours, and at the end of their five-year contracts, they can apply as immigrants to Canada and sponsor their families to live here. Work is now underway toward accreditation of education and experience obtained outside Canada by immigrants,” Syme adds.
“Mail order brides”also no longer face automatic deportation when their marriages break up.
In 1994, Syme became the executive director of the Peel Multicultural Center (PMC), which serves the cities of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon. PMC advocates for immigrants and visible minorities on issues such as racism and discrimination in the workplace, schools, access to homes and social services.
PMC also provides outreach and education for its clients on matters of domestic violence, concerns of live-in caregivers, immigrant sponsorship, and civic participation, among others. In 1993, PMC received the Most Outstanding Organization Award from the province of Ontario and Syme received an Outstanding Volunteer Award in 1994.
From 1994 to 2004, she became a judge for the Immigration and Refugee Board. In this capacity, she was responsible for refugee determination decisions pursuant to the Canadian Charter of Rights and the United Nations definition of a Convention Refugee.
From 2005 to the present, Syme has been a Justice of the Peace for Ontario. Her duties are varied.
On criminal matters, she is responsible for decisions on criminal pretrial custody (bail), criminal remand courts, issuance of search warrants, arrest warrants, child protection warrants, peace bonds, and most criminal processes.
On provincial regulatory offences, she is responsible for the majority of provincial regulatory offences and municipal bylaw prosecutions. These include offences against the Highway Traffic Act, Building Code, Environment Act, Fisheries Act, Dog Owners’ Liability Act, Trespass to Property Act, and other provincial statutes. And she can also officiate at weddings.
Once appointed as a member of the province’s judicial system, Justice Syme is prohibited from being a member or volunteer of civic organizations.
“Actually, I had to obtain special permission to remain a member of the College of the Holy Spirit Alumni Association of Toronto (CHSNAF-Toronto) and the University of the Philippines Alumni Association (UPAAT),” she explains.
Among her other volunteer positions are being a past president of UPAAT, member of the provincial Ontario Advisory Council on the Status of Women, and a member of the Advisory Council to the Treasury Board on the Appointment of Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service.
Her awards include: UPAAT’s Most Outstanding Alumnae of the Year– she holds a Master’s degree in statistics (1968) and a Master’s in Business Administration (1972) from UP; one of the Outstanding Alumnae of the Year for College of the Holy Spirit Manila (which she attended from grade school to high school); and Outstanding Alumnae of the Year for Maryknoll (now Miriam) College in Quezon City, where she received her Bachelor of Arts, major in mathematics, in 1965.
Asked if she thinks if her life turned out the way she wanted, she answered: “Better! I wanted to be like my mom, a working mother and wife. (She is married to Robert Syme, an entrepreneur/inventor.) Now, I am a wife, yes–but my kids are the people I serve.”