The story of David Kato, a Ugandan gay rights activist who was murdered last week, reached the floor of the House of Commons when NDP MP Bill Siksay asked a question about the government’s response to the murder.
Siksay outlined that Kato was murdered in his own home, and that he was one of 100 Ugandan queer activists targeted by a newspaper campaign.
“How has Canada responded?” Siksay asked. “Has the minister of foreign affairs called in the Ugandan high commissioner to express our outrage? Have Canada’s diplomats in Kampala called for respect for human rights and protection for gay, lesbian, bi and trans Ugandans?”
“As a government we have called upon the Ugandan government to conduct a thorough investigation into the death and to increase the human rights protection of all Ugandans,” Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon replied. “Members will recall we passed a unanimous motion in the House and have been very forceful in our determination to ensure that we do protect the rights of all of these individuals.”
For Siksay, the government’s response is tepid.
“It wasn’t a particularly strong response,” Siksay says. He points out that while Prime Minister Stephen Harper did raise the issue of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill with the country’s president, and was a part of the international effort against the bill, he hopes they don’t drop the ball now.
“As the minister rightly noted in his response, the House did have a unanimous statement last year about the situation in Uganda, calling for support for the queer community in Uganda,” Siksay says. “It would be nice to see them do something tangible about it. I’d like to see them bring in the high commissioner and say they’re concerned. I’d like to see the prime minister call the president again. I’d like to see our diplomats do something tangible, as American and other diplomats have done in Kampala.”
Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae says the government’s response needs to go beyond Uganda.
“Obviously the situation in Uganda is the issue of the moment, but I think we need to do a better job of integrating the issue of rights for gay and lesbian people around the world into our whole approach of human rights as a foreign policy,” Rae says. “There are a number of examples, a number of countries, where there is significant discrimination, and that discrimination often leads to murder and violence. I do think this is something we need to integrate into our foreign policy and what we’re doing as a country, not only in Uganda, but elsewhere.”