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Diaspora a big focus of Jamaican consul general’s career

By Sneh Duggal      

Working with big Jamaican-Canadian community in GTA a priority.

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Lloyd Wilks is a man of many trades.

The Jamaican consul general’s life in his home country involved being a foreign service officer by day, police officer by night and farmer on the weekends. At his farm in Portland, Mr. Wilks grew bananas, ginger, potatoes, yams, cocoa, peppers and plantains.

Of course his life has been a little different since arriving in Toronto in January, but the Jamaican diplomat is no stranger to change. Mr. Wilks has spent more than 25 years in Jamaica’s foreign service, joining the foreign affairs and trade ministry right out of university.

Mr. Wilks wanted to be a pilot and registered to join the army, but upon seeing what the tough training was like, he opted on going to university instead.

While he still has a craving for the army and flying, Mr. Wilks said in a Nov. 26 interview that his choice to enter the diplomatic service has been “an extremely fulfilling endeavour.”

His first three-year posting abroad in 1990 was in Toronto, a stint during which he also served as consul general for six months. Throughout his postings, Mr. Wilks worked to establish databases of Jamaican nationals in each country so the government could reach them better.

He was posted to Havana and twice to London, and has served as assistant director and later as director of the diaspora and consular affairs department in Jamaica. In the latter role, he was involved in developing policies to guide the engagement of Jamaicans living overseas.

He also worked on planning diaspora conferences, which brought together Jamaican nationals living abroad, government officials, the private sector and non-governmental organizations to focus on investment and trade, the country’s long-term development goals and social and diaspora issues.

Although his position at the foreign ministry affords him a more senior role than consul general, Mr. Wilks said he returned to Toronto since one of his five children, Aisha, lives in the city and the posting would give him the chance to apply his work on diaspora-related policy in Canada.

More than 70 per cent of all people who reported Jamaican origins in Canada in 2001 lived in Toronto, according to Statistics Canada, amounting to just over 150,000 people that year.

Mr. Wilks has noticed that while there are many diaspora organizations, the networking between them could be better.

“I am working very closely with those communities and very closely with those organizations to see if we can advance the networking process,” he said.

Another aim was to boost the consulate’s marketing and social media presence to ensure people have better access to the mission and so that messages reach the community about social development and engagement in processes in Jamaica. Regularly attending and speaking at events and reaching out to youth groups, churches and the business community has been one way to do this. Mr. Wilks said he also wanted to improve the use of technology in the mission’s work and this includes the upcoming launch of a new interactive website.

While there are a myriad of Jamaican-focused organizations that the consulate works with in the Greater Toronto Area, a few include the Jamaican Canadian Association, the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education and the Jamaican Canadian Youth Council, which Mr. Wilks encouraged the formation of earlier this year.

“The message really is that together we can resolve our problems working with our partners—both friends of Jamaica, state enterprise[s], NGOs and Jamaicans in general, including the church, to resolve our issues and to promote our interests both here in Toronto and GTA and Canada and in Jamaica itself,” he said.

Mr. Wilks said he would like to see greater participation of the diaspora at all levels of government as elected officials, more Canadian citizenship being taken up by Jamaican nationals and parents becoming more involved in the lives of their children who are in school.

Youth engagement is an important part of his work. This includes the development of the youth council, having youth sit as voluntary members of a public relations committee at the consulate and sending youth to participate in a diaspora conference in Jamaica.

The consulate covers the GTA and has three diplomats and seven local staff members. It hosts an additional trade and investment section and a tourist board office with their own staff.

Toronto-based journalist and former Embassy staff writer Sneh Duggal writes on foreign consulates in Canada.



Rapid fire with the Jamaican consul general

Age: 52

Born: Kingston, Jamaica

Favourite restaurants: Origin North at Bayview Village, The Real Jerk, Jamaica House.

Music: Jazz (his father was a jazz musician), reggae, rhythm and blues, classical, calypso.

Last good book read: In the Castle of My Skin.

Movies: To Sir, With Love is his “absolute favourite.”

Fun facts: He played major league soccer for the Bull Bay Football Club, he likes a good game of chess and currently his go-to game is dominoes—he can be found at a restaurant playing dominos with community friends and enjoying a nice Jamaican meal.

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