The Honourable Justice Steve Coroza is the first and only Filipino-Canadian judge appointed to the Superior Court of Justice and Ontario Court of Justice. His appointment as justice in Canada is a success and pride that not only he and his family are proud of, but jubilation that Filipinos around the world celebrates.
Although he was not born in the Philippines, by the virtue of his parents who are Filipinos he is identified as one and still strongly associated with Filipino. His parents met in Toronto after they immigrated to Canada in 1969 and 1970 respectively.
Growing up, his parents raised him and his siblings with Filipino values, one of which is emphasizing the importance of education and attaining a university degree.
“The mandatory requirement living in my home was that you had to go to University and obtain a degree. There was no option. Education is an important thing and my parents wanted to ensure that all we had to do was to do well in school. Sports and other activities were secondary. Education was important,” says Justice Coroza in an interview.
Besides the importance of education, there are virtues that his parents taught him and serve as among his guiding principles in life.
“Throughout my life, mom and dad have taught me three very important lessons. They taught me that it is important to live your life with three things always in the back of your mind, 1) humility; 2) generosity and 3) hard work,” adds Justice Coroza.
The honorable justice witnessed what his parents’ definition of hard work when he helped in the family business during his teenage years, which he also considered his first job.
“For many years when I was a teenager, my first job was working in the family convenience store in Brampton. For my parents, this was a store that was open 365 days a year,” he narrates. “They woke up at 400 a.m. and closed at 12:00 a.m. It was very hard work for them and they did not take a vacation for many years.”
All his parents’ hard work and sacrifices in raising him paid off that when he got appointed, his father’s words imprinted on him. “When I was first appointed as a judge, my father said two words: ‘Thank you’. The fact that I was appointed a judge made all of his sacrifice and my mother’s sacrifice worth it.”
Family and career management
Justice Coroza is a loyal husband to his wife, a nurse practitioner, and a dedicated father to his three children. His profession and the responsibilities attached to it is among the most time-consuming careers, and the role he plays in the society is undeniably important. So how does he manage and balance his time?
“It is hard to achieve given the busy schedules. However, we try to ensure that on Sundays we have dinner together as a family. It doesn’t always happen,” relates Justice Coroza. He also attends his children’s activities. “They are all dancers and one boy plays hockey,” says the proud father.
He adds, “Most days are spent in the courtroom. I am up fairly early in the morning and then home during the early evening because of activities for the children. I do work most weekends or late into the evening. When I am not actually presiding in court, there is a lot of writing and reading that is involved with the job. Most of the writing and reading takes place in the evening or weekends. I also lecture and teach law students and lawyers at conferences and in law schools.”
A family man, Justice Coroza finds presiding cases that involve family and children a challenging task.
“Presiding over family cases involving children is a very challenging task. Most of the time, these are children who I have never met and decisions about access and custody are difficult choices to make for a judge. Presiding over criminal cases especially lengthy murder trials is also challenging because of the emotions involved,” Justice Coroza admits.
The journey to success
A graduate of the University of Windsor for his Bachelor of Law degree and Osgoode Hall Law School for his Master of Law. Before his appointment, Justice Coroza was a Federal Prosecutor; a senior counsel with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and he also served as a criminal duty counsel for Legal Aid Ontario in Toronto, criminal law as his main practice.
Presently, besides his service at the Superior Court of Justice, he is an adjunct professor at Osgoode Law School, section leader in trial advocacy course; instructor for Intensive Trial Advocacy Workshop, Osgoode Professional Development Program and at the University of Notre Dame Law School.
No matter how successful he gets, Justice Coroza will not forget his association with the Filipino community in Canada, and he acknowledges the role it served in his accomplishment.
“Absolutely. The community would include my immediate family, relatives and role models in the community. As Filipino-Canadians we tend to do things quietly and in my view “blend in” more than other immigrant groups. However, there are Filipino-Canadians who are leaders in the fields of finance, medicine, law, and education. Members of this community shaped my career by acting as mentors and champions,” says Justice Coroza.
As his way of giving back to the community, he does his best to make himself available for any community event. “My role includes guest speaking, delivering a keynote address or handing out certificates to officers.”
Meanwhile, with regard to success, Justice Coroza doesn’t have a prescribed formula although he believes that when given an opportunity to pursue a dream, one should work hard and do good work.
He says, “Working hard and doing good work in your field will push others to open doors for you because they cannot ignore you.” For the newcomers, he adds, “This is a great country. I can assure you that if you work hard and identify mentors who share very good values you will be given every opportunity to succeed.”
‘Aim for leadership positions’
Justice Coroza encouraged the new generation of Filipino-Canadians to aim for leadership positions.“The Fil-Canadian community has to start turning our minds to entering fields and promoting future leaders in fields where we do not have a presence in leadership positions. This would include law, business, politics, and medicine. Everyone knows that in the fields of the arts we often dominate. I love the arts, however, it is time to start promoting and pushing for leadership in the other fields,” urges Justice Coroza.
“We have made good progress in politics. For example, Dr. Rey Pagtakhan was in the cabinet under former Prime Minister Chretien, Mayor Art Viola was the mayor of Niagara on the Lake, and the late Senator Tobias Enverga Jr. are all men who shattered the glass ceilings in federal and municipal politics,” accounts Justice Coroza.
“More recently, Regional Councillor Rowena Santos was elected in Peel Region: an incredible win. There was also an excellent effort by Mr. Julius Tiangson who gave it a good run in the last Federal election for the Conservative party and more recently, Angely Pacis, barrister, and solicitor who ran for the PC party to become an MPP, ” he adds. “It is starting to come around in other fields as well. The Chief Medical Officer for the City of Toronto Dr. Eileen De Villa is an inspiration. There is also a military commander for the Royal Regiment, Lt. Col. Nonato who is a Filipino. These are incredible appointments and I hope that as a community we can start to develop future leaders and keep the momentum going.”