Until the past year or so, when I found myself in the perhaps-enviable position of not needing to lose any weight, I never realized the extent to which we are bombarded with weight-loss messages. On TV, it's Dr. Bernstein, Herbal Magic and Weight Watchers. The most popular magazines, particularly "women's magazines" like Chatelaine and Canadian Living, are loaded with health columns and recipes promoting weight loss. Turn on the news and you hear about government proposals to ban extra-large soft drinks or make junk food a controlled substance unavailable to anyone under the age of 18.

Apparently, 62% of Canadians are now overweight or obese. So having excess weight is now the RULE, not the exception. I don't dispute that a lot of health issues are correlated with being too fat, although I also think it's possible to confuse cause and effect. And surely we should be concentrating on eating a healthy diet and maintaining a reasonable level of physical activity, rather than focusing all our attention on the numbers on the scale.

And what I REALLY have to wonder is this: Especially given that the MAJORITY of us are overweight, why do we persist in treating fatness as a character flaw, or even the mark of a fundamentally bad person? Or a bad dad?

A 38-year-old Ottawa man has not seen his two sons, aged four and six, in a year. A judge ruled yesterday that they would be put up for adoption - mainly, it seems, because the man is obese and therefore deemed to be an unfit parent. The man has evidently shown a considerable amount of self-discipline and determination, managing on his own, through exercise and a healthy diet, to drop to 340 pounds from 525.

One wonders how much we, the taxpayers, have been paying to keep these two boys in foster care this past year, with a single mother with five other children. She may be managing perfectly well, of course, but meanwhile there's the natural father, willing and ostensibly quite able to care for them at no additional cost to the state. In fact, if we were to give the dad even half, or a quarter of what the foster mother is being paid for their care, that would no doubt make the family's life a lot easier right there, as well as saving money. A win-win situation, you would think.

As I've mentioned before, there's no freedom of speech or of the press when it comes to child welfare and wards of the state. They mustn't be identified in the media. But this man is talking about staging a hunger strike on Parliament Hill beginning tomorrow, to publicize his plight. After all, he has nothing to lose except weight.

An Ottawa-based survivor of foster care has put together an excellent website where you can read about some of the issues surrounding the child welfare system in Ontario. Amongst other initiatives is a lobby to have decisions of Children's Aid Societies appealable to the Ontario Ombudsman. It would be an important step towards greater accountability. See the following sites for more information:

http://www.afterfostercare.ca
http://fostercarenews.blogspot.ca
http://fostercare.proboards.com

and for a fascinating but scary video and reaction to it:

http://about.blakout.ca ("Voices silenced by fear")
Hi again and welcome back to the blogcutter's café. One of the most important roles of the media in a democratic society is to expose the plight of the underdog, thereby generating righteous indignation and embarrassing the powers that be, or "overdogs" if you will, into doing the right thing. One master of that process is columnist Hugh Adami, who writes "The Public Citizen" column in the Ottawa Citizen.

In yesterday's column, Adami publicized the plight of Dan Brown, a security guard ousted from his job at NRC because somebody apparently complained he couldn't speak French. Does anyone remember the joke about the lifeguard who didn't save the drowning child because he couldn't swim - but he COULD speak French?

Now don't get me wrong. I love living in a bilingual milieu. Every language you learn is a new system for cataloguing your world, a new set of glasses through which to view your reality. But it must be said that more language and more languages does not always mean more or better communication. In fact, during my years in government, memo-writers often erred on the side of shorter and more cryptic communication because they knew it would have to be translated, and time was of the essence. I recall one particular instance when we were in the throes of reorganization, of a memo sent out to Headquarters and all the regions, where we had to do some research and dig up some information. Since I didn't fully understand it and didn't want to waste anyone's precious time, I phoned the project leader for clarification. I got that clarification but, as I pointed out to her, what she in fact was asking was something very different from what she had written in her original e-mail. I suggested she might want to sent out a follow-up e-mail to all the original recipients of the first one. If I had misunderstood it, chances are some of the other recipients might have as well. But no, she couldn't do that, she insisted, because if she took the time to craft such an e-mail, it would then have to be translated, and so on and so forth. So instead, I believe what ended up happening was she had to talk with each of the recipients individually, except maybe to those who didn't phone her for clarification (who probably went off and performed the wrong research). What a horrendous waste!

Another recent injustice in the Ottawa area that has had a certain amount of publicity lately has been the closing of Nicholas Hoare Books on Sussex Drive. The National Capital Commission raised the bookstore's already sky-high rent by a whopping 74% - and the markup on books is not high enough for the owner to make a go of things. Most commentators on the issue have been pro-bookstore, although a couple of influential columnists have come down on the other side too. What they may not realize is that Nicholas Hoare Books has been a great asset to the Ottawa community over the years. They were instrumental in establishing the wonderful "Books and Brunch" series at the Chateau Laurier (which regrettably marginalized it over the years, possibly due to the influence of Fairmont assuming responsibility for the property). They have sold tickets and passes to the semiannual Ottawa Writers' Festival since its inception. And of course, they have held numerous in-store book-related and other cultural events - book signings, gatherings of librarians, twelfth-night celebrations, the list goes on! I still hold out a small hope that with the attendant publicity, the NCC will see fit to do the right thing and back down on the rent increase.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are important human rights but, as our Charter makes clear in its preamble, no right is absolute, and there's the rub. We have things like "hate crime" legislation which inhibits or suppresses free speech and thereby, in my view, merely lends credence to the extremist views of certain factions. We have court settlements, the terms of which must not be publicly disclosed. And one biggie, which I'll have to save for another day - the veil of secrecy surrounding child "protection" proceedings which allows Children's Aid Societies to function virtually as a law unto themselves. And that is where I shall conclude my posting for today.

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