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Raising Uganda – did Harper do enough?

At the Commonwealth Heads Of Government summit in Trinidad and Tobago last weekend, the subject of Uganda's deeply anti-gay proposed law was raised in private by both Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Uganda chaired the summit, and there were hopes that the issue might be more publicly raised – possibly even considering suspending Uganda's membership in the Commonwealth – though eventually the issue of climate change dominated the agenda. I spoke two the Liberal foreign affairs critic, Bob Rae, and the NDP's LGBT critic Bill Siksay, after Question Period today.

Bob Rae:
Q: Was it enough for the Prime Minister to discuss the issue in private with the President of Uganda, or should he have made a more public condemnation?
A: I don’t know what else the Prime Minister did. I do know that he spoke vigorously with the President of Uganda. Canada’s position is in no doubt – it’s been stated on the floor of the House of Commons. I think we’re all wrestling with how do we deal with governments that have passed laws that are deeply homophobic, and not just homophobic but deeply prejudicial to the very notion of human rights itself. It’s no longer the expression of a moral choice or a preference, if you like. It really does speak to the ability of people to be themselves. Sexuality is a very important way for people to express themselves, and when you say that how a certain percentage of the population expresses itself is illegal, and is subject to a prison sentence, and is subject to terrible punishment, it’s a deep offence against the human rights of all of us, and I think it’s something which we all have to be profoundly concerned about. Unfortunately, it’s not confined to Uganda.

Bill Siksay:
Q: Did you find the Prime Minister’s response adequate, to have a private chat rather than do something more publicly?
A: I think it would have been better to have the public opportunity, but I don’t know what the dynamics are for getting something on the agenda at a Commonwealth Heads Of Government meeting. I am very happy, very pleased that the Prime Minister took the initiative to at least have the private conversation.

Q: Does it say that to have it as a private conversation is that this is something that can’t be discussed in polite company?
A: Lest you scare the horses? I don’t know – I hope not. I’m not experienced enough in international diplomacy and those kinds of meetings. I would expect that those kinds of meeting, the agendas are set a long time ahead, so I don’t know. You’re right – it would have been better if it had been a public discussion, but at least the Prime Minister has made it clear directly to the government of Uganda and the [President] of Uganda, Canadians’ concerns about this legislation, and I think he deserves points for doing that.
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