Ambassador Emily McLaughlin: Canada and Czechia “share a lot of values”

Jan Lipavský and Emily McLaughlin

In August 2023, Canada appointed a new Ambassador to Czechia, Emily McLaughlin. Ambassador McLaughlin, whose career has spanned over 20 years in the Canadian Foreign Service, has previously held positions in New York, London and Hong Kong. Recently, I met with her at the Canadian Embassy in Prague to discuss her mission, her hopes of connecting with Canadians in Czechia, and the values that the two nations have in common. But of course, as a fellow Canadian, my first question was about Ambassador McLaughlin’s upbringing in Canada.

“I’m from the west coast – I grew up in a small town called White Rock, just outside of the city of Vancouver in British Colombia. It’s right on the beach, and we could see the United States from our house. Sometimes we would get up late and watch the Fourth of July fireworks. It was nice growing up in a small town that was close to the big city. We had a small hobby farm, and we always had a menagerie of animals, pets, and big gardens. It was a pretty nice life for a kid. My brother and I grew up playing in the forest around us and by the creek. It’s a beautiful part of the world, and holds a special place in my heart.”

From growing up on a farm, how did you end up getting interested in a career in diplomatic relations?

Emily McLaughlin | Photo: Canadian Embassy in Prague

“It’s a good question – and sometimes I even ask myself that! I had a lovely rural lifestyle growing up, but both my parents were immigrants – my dad is from New Zealand and my mom is from the United States. They had travelled extensively before settling down, and both my brother and I were enrolled in a French immersion program, which really immerses you in another language and culture. I think this really laid the seeds for me – having family in different places. I was always interested in travel and the world outside of my bubble, so that was probably the beginning.

“I have an anthropology degree, so I’ve been fascinated by the study of people and cultures. I would say I ‘veered’ into diplomacy, I never strategized for it, or set a target for it. The more I studied, the more I found myself and became more drawn to diplomacy.

“A friend of mine was applying to the Foreign Service after university, and I thought ‘I should try that too’, and here I am! I won’t say what happened to my friend though.”

Well I guess she’s not here!


How are you finding Prague so far? You’re fairly new to the city.

Ambassador McLaughlin and her husband after the presentation of her credentials to President Petr Pavel,  October 20 | Photo: Canadian Embassy in Prague

“It’s an amazing city, it’s like living in a postcard. It’s been great to explore it. I’d only been here once before for a long weekend, but it was a bit of a leap to come to a place where I hadn’t spent much time. I unfortunately don’t speak much Czech, if any, so I’ve been learning the basics to get around.

“I’m super privileged, because I get invited to these events in these gorgeous historical buildings, and I spend a lot of time staring at ceilings now. It’s been great to discover the city as I do my job. I often go home to my husband and tell him that we have to go back to visit a particular area. The history, the culture, and the people have been great.”

And the crown moulding on the ceilings!

“Yes, and the crown moulding, the high ceilings. You’re Canadian – so you know that our physical structures are different in Canada.”

Totally – I mean it’s hard to find a building older than 1890.

“Quebec City has a few old ones, but there is certainly nothing from the 1400’s that is still standing.”

Speaking of Canadians, how are you planning to connect with the Canadians who are living here in Czechia and foster community?

“It’s a great question, it’s one I’ve been asking myself. So far, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with a lot of Czechs – government officials, academics, NGO’s, business people, the Chamber of Canadian Commerce – but I haven’t been able to do as much with the Canadian community here. It’s definitely a goal, to engage more with Canadians. As the weather gets nicer, I’m thinking about things we can do.

“We’re also trying to build our social media presence too, and I hope Canadians are watching, and we want to do a bit more outreach. I’m really interested in people’s stories, how Canadians ended up in Prague. I have some ideas for what I want to do around that, but it’s a bit too early to share.”

Canadians do typically have interesting stories for how they landed in Czechia, because it’s not necessarily the first place you think about going to.

"I’m really interested in people’s stories, how Canadians ended up in Prague."

“I think it’s not top of mind for all Canadians, but we do have a diaspora in Canada with Czech heritage. That’s a story I often hear, that people had a Czech parent and have come back to reconnect with their roots. But of course people fall in love or get jobs, and I love to hear what brought people here.”

Prague is home to some ‘superstar ambassadors’ – the US Ambassador Bijan Sabet, the UK Ambassador Matt Field. How has it been joining the other Ambassadors in the city?

"It’s been really great. My colleagues have been super welcoming. You mentioned Matt and Bijan – they are fantastic colleagues, and I would call them friends now."

“It’s been really great. My colleagues have been super welcoming. You mentioned Matt and Bijan – they are fantastic colleagues, and I would call them friends now. In the diplomatic community, we see each other a lot – sometimes multiple times in a day due to all the events going on. We have groups that we operate in, and some are more formal. But some are also informal, like the Women’s Ambassador Group, and we gather relatively frequently, and someone usually organizes a speaker to come in. It’s a great way to build a community with people who you’re really sharing a journey with even though you’re from different parts of the world.”

“Canada is a smaller team here, but it’s been wonderful to work with some of the ambassadors with bigger teams who can work with us when we do joint events. It’s been a really great experience so far.”

Do you feel that Canada is possibly not as strong of a diplomatic force as say, the US?

“I would say we are very strong, and we have a great reputation here. I would never want us to rest on the assumption that everyone loves Canada. When I say we’re small, I just mean the embassy team compared to other G7 missions. We don’t have the same number of human resources necessarily, but we have a lot of plans and ideas, and we really try to get out there.

"I would say we [Canada] are very strong, and we have a great reputation here."

“When you can work with others and maximize your impact, it’s really nice. We have a project coming up in the spring where we do an ‘Ambassador for the Day’ program, where we collaborate with the US and the UK, and the three missions pool our time and resources, and we each bring in an ambassador for the day who works with us. It’s a cool program, and as we do it together we can really maximize our impact.”

You meet fairly frequently with Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský about shared Canada-Czech priorities. What are the shared priorities between the two countries?

“I’ve had a formal bi-lateral with Minister Lipavský, but also I see him quite frequently at events. We share a lot of values in foreign policy. Beyond support for Ukraine, we talk a lot about peace and security issues, human rights, cybersecurity, disinformation and misinformation, and these malicious threats that seem to be coming at us from all these different places. We have a lot of discussions on democracy, the rules based international order, issues that we are mutually interested in and care about.

"That’s the foreign policy side of things, but Canada also has a trade relationship with Czechia. I have conversations with counterparts in the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and we have conversations about building our trade and investment relationships, so it goes beyond foreign policy as well.”

Earlier you mentioned something that I think is quite true, and that’s that Canada gets a reputation for being nice, but we also have a lot of history, and some of it is not so positive. Back a few months ago, your mission was the first to raise a flag that recognizes the legacy of residential schools in Canada. Is it important for you that these topics are made apparent here in Czechia and discussed?

“Yes, absolutely. And I will say that I can’t take credit for that flag, it was Kimberly Phillips on my team who took the initiative to order the flag so we had it. It was a meaningful thing to do, and I think we will continue to do this. I had a few ambassador colleagues at different Canadian missions contact me about how to procure their own flag for next year after they saw our social media post.

“For your listeners who maybe don’t know, the residential school system in Canada was a stain on our history. A lot of survivors are still suffering from what happened. The flag is a beautiful testament because it was the survivors that put it together. Each part of the flag has a symbol and meaning. It’s a really important symbol, and for me it’s beyond a remembrance symbol since it’s created by the survivors. It’s part of taking the path to reconciliation and healing, and shows that we’re working towards a path forward.”

Are there any concrete goals or changes that you’re hoping to make during your time in Prague?

"My goal is to keep Canada’s reputation a positive one, to keep finding ways to make positive contributions, to build friendships and relationships with our Czech colleagues and counterparts."

“My predecessor was so great, and she really set us on a good path here. My goal is to keep Canada’s reputation a positive one, to keep finding ways to make positive contributions, to build friendships and relationships with our Czech colleagues and counterparts. I also really want to meet some more Canadians too, so I hope I have the chance to do this. I’m planning on getting out of Prague as well – because I cover all of the Czech Republic and I think it’s important to go beyond Prague and get out to some of the regions. I’ve managed to make it to Brno, but I’d like to do a lot more than that this year since I love to travel.”