Essays January 2011

Canada: Dignity in Diversity? A Reflection

Anton Hart

Is Canada still a leading country in diversity, tolerance, healthcare, human rights, child and maternal health as well as energy, banking, resources, agriculture and more? Or is our reputation waning?

Our government talks the talk:

We are a country whose citizens do not turn back when confronted by obstacles, whatever they are, and never shrink from lending a helping hand to the most disadvantaged, wherever they may be. The world we live in remains strong because of the ties of solidarity that we – women, men and young people – forge among ourselves and because of the care we show toward one another.1

But do we walk the walk?

On December 10, 2010, Canada joined the global community in celebrating International Human Rights Day. Yet in recent years, we have gained a reputation for legislative, policy and budgetary decisions that diminish the human rights of our own citizens.2 To redeem our failures, we need to address the discrimination experienced by our own most vulnerable people.3

Do we recognize that the many Canadians who are frail, tired, infirm, poor, disabled, obese, addicted, mentally ill, old, weak and vulnerable still contribute immeasurably to our well-being as a nation?

As a case in point, 54% of obese Canadian employees report discrimination (e.g., derogatory comments, denial of promotion, wrongful dismissal) in the workplace from co-workers, supervisors or employers.4

As Canadians, we need to stop demeaning the different and the disadvantaged. We need to safeguard their dignity and acknowledge their contribution to the public good.

The strength of a country is reflected directly through its treatment of differences. We are all different: Dutch people, brown people, workers, intellectuals, athletes, gardeners, oil-rig operators. Those of us who are less robust may be disadvantaged, but who doesn’t need help at some time?

If Canada wants to continue as a leader in matters of diversity and tolerance, this is an opportunity for leadership.

What Will Our Reputation Be?… What Will It Take?

What we need is a new partnership of many players… one that builds on the diversity and tolerance of Canadian society. This could be an opportunity to engage industry, business, schools, government, the professions, agriculture, sports, entertainment, the correctional system… all sectors.

This could be a partnership for dignity focused on all individuals faced with illness, disease, infirmity and disability, including obesity. It could be a movement to shift societal attitudes wherever inappropriate discrimination occurs, and to change negative portrayals of different and disadvantaged people, including overweight and obese individuals.

And if we are really providential, might we see policies to prevent weight-based bullying at workplaces and schools, and even potentially enact legislation making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of body weight or other infirmities?

Let’s show that Canadians discriminate – by identifying the good in everyone.

Promoting Relationships, Eliminating Violence and Introducing Dignity

We need to walk the walk – and the Canadian Obesity Network (CON) wants to participate in this challenge. Its vision is to reduce the mental, physical and economic burden of obesity on Canadians. Collaborating with PREVNet is a strategic initiative.

PREVNet – Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence – is a national network of Canadian researchers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governments committed to stop bullying.5 Bullying is wrong and hurtful. And Canada has a shameful record.6 Every child and youth has the right to be safe and free from bullying.

CON’s work is integral to the challenge we face to reduce the burden of obesity on Canadians. It’s a natural partnership. You are invited to join us.

Organizations and individuals who want to explore this issue can start by reading the blog of our Scientific Director, Arya M. Sharma, MD – “Dr. Sharma’s Obesity Notes” (http://www.drsharma.ca) – or his personal Facebook page. His challenge at the Canadian Obesity Network is to (a) address the social stigma associated with obesity, (b) change the way professionals think about obesity and interact with obese individuals and (c) improve access to obesity prevention, treatment and management.

Respond to Dr. Sharma and engage him in discussion. See where the conversation goes.

 

 

Notes

  1. Speech from the Throne. 2010 (March 3). Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  2. See two of many commentaries in The Star on Canada’s waning reputation: “Canada’s Reputation Is in Tatters.” 2010 (December 10). Kielburger, C. and M. Kielburger. 2010 (December 13). “Global Voices: Canada’s Global Reputation Needs Restoration.”  Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  3. Canadian Association of Social Workers. 2010 (December 10). “Canada without Poverty.” Press release. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  4. The Skinny on Discrimination against Obese People.” 2009 (Fall). Conduit 3(3): 8. Edmonton: Canadian Obesity Network. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  5. PREVNet: Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence. 2010. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  6. The World Health Organization ranks Canada in the bottom third of developed countries when it comes to bullying!

About the Author

Anton Hart is the Chair of the Canadian Obesity Network and a publisher at Longwoods Publishing Corporation.

 


Comments

Alexander Franklin wrote:

Posted 2011/01/25 at 09:55 PM EST

Have suggested for years removing all tax on sport equipment and sport club membership.

 

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