The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a socialist state in Southeast Asia. It was traditionally part of what Europeans called the “East Indies,” an important source of spices, silk and other trade goods beginning in the 16th century. After gaining independence from France in 1954, Lao PDR endured a civil war until 1975, when the communist faction took power. The country was also greatly affected by the Vietnam War. These upheavals, as well as poor economic conditions, led to the migration of many Lao in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with Canada becoming one of the main resettlement countries for Lao refugees.
Lao Immigrants to Canada
A small number of Lao students had arrived in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s, living mainly in Québec, and many of the new Lao refugees after 1974 also settled in Québec, while others moved to Ontario and elsewhere. Some had been educated in French, which made their transition easier, but many struggled with the language barrier and found themselves limited to work as labourers or in semi-skilled jobs. As well, the lack of larger, established Lao communities in Canada added difficulties for the newcomers.
Lao Canadians Today
Looking to each other for support, Lao in Canada developed their own religious and cultural organizations. Theravada Buddhism was an important common bond, and Lao communities established several temples, which became central to religious, cultural and social events. Several Lao associations in Canada, the earliest established in the 1970s, have also formed women’s and youth groups, and sponsored cultural and recreational initiatives such as language classes, arts activities and a soccer league. Today, most Lao Canadians still live in urban centres and maintain strong community connections.
Canada and Lao PDR have had diplomatic relations since 1954. The two countries work together in the political and economic Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and are also partners in l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, whose goals include promoting peace, cooperation and sustainable development. Politically, Canada continues to encourage Lao PDR to improve human rights and safety, and has provided financial support for the clearing of unexploded landmines in the country.