"Canada is deeply troubled that a group of parliamentarians in Uganda secured passage of a bill which proposes harsh punishment for homosexuality," Canada's foreign affairs minister, John Baird, says in a statement to Xtra.
“The Government of Uganda must protect all Ugandans, regardless of sexual orientation. Canada supports efforts to decriminalize homosexuality and combat violence directed towards persons on the basis of their sexual orientation," the emailed statement says.
The Ugandan parliament passed the measure Dec 20, a move that has been condemned by a number of governments, activists and human rights groups.
In the statement, Baird also notes that Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi raised concerns about the status of the bill. Mbabazi, who indicated that he didn't know that the bill was up for debate, apparently sought — unsuccessfully — to have its consideration deferred, noting that a quorum was needed to pass it, a Ugandan parliamentary announcement reveals.
But parliamentarians proceeded with the vote.
"We note that the procedure leading to the adoption of the motion was opposed in Parliament by the Prime Minister of Uganda," Baird writes. "Canada urges the President of Uganda, His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, not to assent to this Bill."
Advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) also raised the quorum issue in its statement about the bill's passage.
"SMUG has received reliable information that the Bill was passed without the requisite quorum despite protests from some Members of Parliament," it states. "There is also no evidence that the Bill was subjected to the Human Rights Checklist which the Speaker of Parliament launched late this year.
"While the Bill is yet to be signed into law by the President, SMUG condemns in the strongest terms the haphazard manner in which Members of Parliament passed it with little if any regard to procedure and to whether it complies with the 1995 Constitution as the Supreme law of Uganda."
SMUG executive director Frank Mugisha says he is "outraged and disappointed that the Uganda parliament has acted in a very ignorant and irrational way."
The organization's legal and human rights officer adds that the bill's passage "has caused significant panic even before it's assented."
SMUG also reiterated its view that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill "undermines rather than upholds the family as it seeks to create fear and suspicion within families and societies and entrenches state sponsored homophobia."
The bill provides for a 14-year prison term for a first conviction and life imprisonment for the offence of "aggravated homosexuality." It also criminalizes "promotion" of homosexuality, while those who fail to report homosexual activities to the police face prison sentences.
"We also call upon the entire international community to remind Uganda of its international treaty obligations and to join hands against the Anti Homosexuality Bill," SMUG says.
The US also issued a strongly worded statement about the bill's passage, saying it condemns legislation that "criminalizes consensual sexual conduct between adults or criminalises simply being of a particular sexual orientation or gender identity," even as it "respects the sovereignty of Uganda and the prerogatives of its parliament to pass legislation.”
The statement also pointed out that "a number of Ugandan government institutions have already spoken out against further criminalisation of homosexuality.”
The United Kingdom's government also made its objections known Dec 20, saying the bill will "damage" minority groups' rights. A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office says the UK has raised its concerns about the bill, spearheaded by MP David Bahati since 2009, on a number of occasions "at the highest levels" of the Ugandan government.