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Transport Minister John Baird speaks during Question Period on Friday, November 20, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick)
Transport Minister John Baird speaks during Question Period on Friday, November 20, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick)

Question Period

Harper to press Uganda <br/>on 'abhorrent' anti-gay law Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will strongly condemn a proposed Ugandan anti-gay law when he meets with Commonwealth leaders tomorrow in Trinidad.

The law that proposes strict sanctions on gays and lesbians, including life imprisonment for homosexuals, is threatening to overshadow the bi-annual conference.

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Transport Minister John Baird made the announcement today in Question Period in answer to demands by NDP MP Bill Siksay that the Prime Minister meet "face-to-face" with the Ugandan leader "to help stop this bill."

"The current legislation before Parliament in Uganda is vile, it's abhorrent. It's offensive. It offends Canadian values. It offends decency. We strongly condemn that and the Prime Minister will make that strong condemnation as well," Mr. Baird said.

Uganda is, of course, a member of the Commonwealth. The Ugandan President is expected to attend the meetings.

The Baird-Siksay exchange provided the one nugget of real news in a Question Period otherwise dominated by accusations and denials about allegations of torture of Afghan detainees.

Once again the opposition was calling on the government to release memos and documents related to the allegations of torture. The government has so far refused.

"We are asked to do our work blindfolded and in the dark," charged Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae. In that case, Mr. Rae argued the correct course of action would be to hold a public inquiry in which all would be revealed.

"We need to get at the truth," Mr. Rae said. "Why is the government afraid of a public inquiry? What is it about the truth that this government is afraid of?"

The Transport Minister wouldn't bite. Rather, he attempted to turn the tables on Mr. Rae by denouncing the Liberals for sending out a fundraising letter that he and his party say criticizes the military.

"I know he would believe that raising money on the backs of our men and women in uniform by maligning Canada is wrong," Mr. Baird said. "I would call on him [to]… stand up in this place and call those types of shameless fundraising tactics wrong for what they are."

The Prime Minister was not in the chamber today. He is on his way to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff was also absent as he was in Quebec City delivering a speech on climate change.

News coverage of Mr. Ignatieff's midday speech was trumped by Mr. Harper's announcement - made as he was boarding his jet to travel to Trinidad - that he has changed his mind and will be attending the environmental summit in Copenhagen after all.

NDP Leader Jack Layton, who is also attending the UN conference, raised environmental concerns in Question Period today:

"We are glad that the Prime Minister is finally taking this issue seriously and has taken his head out of the tar sands," Mr. Layton said. "The question is: Is he going with any plan? So far, we have seen no plan even though it was promised by the Minister of the Environment."

Mr. Baird said that the Prime Minister "will be there to forcefully argue for a strong agreement."

(Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

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