Filipino Canadians

Immigration to Canada from the Philippines is relatively recent: it began in the 1970s. In the 2016 Census, 837,130 people reported being of Filipino ethnic origin. Filipino Canadians thus constitute the largest group of Southeast Asian Canadians. The Philippines also ranked first as country of birth among people who immigrated to Canada between 2006 and 2016. Filipino Canadians are deeply engaged in Canada’s artistic, cultural, social and political life. In the field of arts and culture, prominent Filipino Canadians include singer Joey Albert, comic- book author J. Torres and playwright C. E. “Chris” Gatchalian. In politics, Conrad Santos was the first Canadian of Filipino origin to be elected to a legislative assembly in Canada (that of Manitoba, in 1981). Dr. Rey D. Pagtakhan became the first Filipino Canadian to sit in the House of Commons, in 1988, and Tobias Enverga became the first appointed to the Senate of Canada, in 2012.

Conrad Santos
First Filipino-Canadian to be elected to a provincial legislative assembly.
Mable Elmore
Parliamentary Secretary for Poverty Reduction of British Columbia


The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,083 islands in the western Pacific Ocean that occupies 300,000 km2. In 2015, the country’s population was approximately 101 million people, more than 80 per cent of whom were Roman Catholic. Filipinos belong to the Indo-Malay group, which spread out from the southern tip of Asia to settle as far as Polynesia in the South Pacific. The Philippines was a colony of Spain from 1564 to 1898. It was ceded to the United States following the Spanish-American War. The United States established a civilian government, and the new Constitution of 1935 made the country officially the Commonwealth of the Philippines. During the Second World War, Japan invaded the Philippines in December 1941 and occupied the country until July 1945, when it was liberated by the United States. The Philippines gained independence on 4 July 1946. However, Filipinos now celebrate Independence Day on 12 June, to commemorate the first proclamation of independence, from Spain, in 1898.

Migration History

Filipinos were first reported as a separate listing in Canadian immigration statistics in 1965 when 1,467 entered Canada — nearly twice the number admitted in the previous two decades. The emphasis on Canada's own labour needs in federal immigration policy enabled the skilled, well-trained Filipinos — the result of compulsory mass public education — to enter Canada in large numbers. Overpopulation and economic and political difficulties (especially following the declaration of martial law in 1972) caused massive emigration starting in the 1970s. By 1995, more than 220,000 Filipinos had entered Canada as landed immigrants seeking better economic opportunities for their families. The majority were women aged 20 to 34 who were Roman Catholic, relatively well educated and proficient in English. In 1992, the Philippines ranked second among the top 10 source countries of Canadian immigrants.

A 1972 Canada-wide survey of Filipino Canadians revealed that some 85 per cent of immigrants held at least a bachelor's degree. Their intended occupations were in health, manufacturing, sales, teaching and service categories. Subsequent migrants tended to be parents and dependent minors coming under the family reunification program.

Over the following years, the kind of immigrants that Canada needed changed. In response, the federal government introduced the Live-in Caregiver Program (see Domestic Service (Caregiving) in Canada), which enabled over 30,000 Filipinos to immigrate to Canada between 1982 and 1991. Since 1992, Filipinos have consistently ranked first in the “independent immigrants” category, a group selected on the basis of skills and ability to contribute quickly to Canadian society and the Canadian economy. The 2011 National Household Survey confirmed this trend. The Philippines ranked first among the countries of birth of people who immigrated to Canada between 2006 and 2011, and again between 2011 and 2016. From 2011 to 2016, 15.6 per cent of all new immigrants to Canada came from the Philippines. Among Filipino Canadians, women outnumber men by 56 per cent to 44 per cent.

In 2014, the Philippines became the principal source of immigrants to Canada, which welcomed more than 40,000 permanent residents from that country.

Geographic Distribution

Also according to 2016 Census, 837,130 persons of Filipino origin (single and multiples responses) live in Canada. Less than half of all Filipino Canadians have settled in Ontario (337,760) and most have settled in metropolitan areas (more than 81 per cent of Ontario's Filipino immigrants live in Metro Toronto). Large numbers also live in Vancouver (133,925), Winnipeg (77,305), Calgary (75,020), Edmonton (64,275) and Montreal (35,680).

Social, Cultural and Religious Life

Tagalog, also known as Filipino (or Pilipino), is the national language of the Philippines. In Canada, in 2016, 431,380 people reported Tagalog as their mother tongue (first language learned). Because of their English proficiency and relatively high education, Filipinos tend to integrate into urban communities and are often actively involved with their communities rather than forming ethnic enclaves.

There are more than 1,000 Filipino associations all over Canada formed along provincial or regional origins, university affiliations or common interests. These associations participate in community festivals and civic celebrations. Filipino communities are served by an active ethnic media — newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations. Many of the closely knit Filipino families in Canada still adhere to the Asian values of respect for elders, appreciation of education, belief in self-reliance and upholding family honour.

The Roman Catholic Church serves as the centre of much social interaction outside the home for Filipino Canadians. Religious holidays are celebrated with traditional rites, featuring native songs and dances, special foods and decorations.

Relations between Canada and the Philippines

Canada and the Philippines have developed close, friendly ties. Canada has an embassy in Manila and works with the Philippines as a dialogue partner in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In the Philippines, Canada promotes democratic development, good governance, the rule of law, peace, and the protection of human rights. Since 2014, the Philippines has been one of the 25 countries that the Government of Canada has targeted for its international development efforts. The goal of Canada's bilateral development program in the Philippines is “to support sustainable economic growth by improving the climate for investment and advancing the economic opportunities of poor women and men.”

Bilateral trade between Canada and the Philippines is considerable. In 2014, the value of exports of Canadian goods to the Philippines totalled $569.7 million, while the value of Canadian imports of goods from the Philippines totalled nearly $1.24 billion.

Further Reading

  • Glenda Tibe Bonifacio, Pinay on the Prairies: Filipino Women and Transnational Identities (2013).

  • Roland Sintos Coloma et al., eds., Filipinos in Canada: Disturbing Invisibility (2012).

  • Eleanor R. Laquian, A Study of Filipino Immigration to Canada, 1962-1972 (1973).

External Links