CSIS, Khadr, Human Rights -- and an aside about health care.

As reported by the CBC, the Security Intelligence Review Committee has released a report indicating that CSIS violated Omar Khadr's human rights by not taking his age into account when he was interrogated at Guantanamo Bay. (He was sixteen at the time, and as video evidence shows, broke down crying for his mother while being questioned.)

Further, as reported by Kathleen Petty of CBC on The House, SIRC's report indicates that "CSIS cannot carry out its mandate solely from an intelligence-gathering perspective. They have to take things like human rights into account."

I'm not going to comment on this in depth, but I'd like to say -- thank goodness. It remains to be seen whether or not CSIS will develop a proper protocol for dealing with youth in the future, but the declaration by SIRC that human rights have to take precedence over gathering information fits quite precisely with what I like to imagine to be Canadian values.

And, on that note, an aside about health care. Today, I decided that I wanted a specialist opinion about a (definitely not urgent) health issue. So, being in the US and having good insurance through my student-employee union, I checked the directory for my insurance provider, and booked an appointment. In about two weeks, I'll be seeing a specialist (with a subspecialty, even), and paying about $10 out of pocket.

So, for a few minutes, I thought -- maybe this is better than the care I'd receive in Canada. Back home, I'd certainly be waiting longer for this doctor, and being in a smaller area I'd like not be able to find a doctor with this particular subspecialty. I wouldn't be able to decide on my own, either, that I wanted this issue double-checked, and then to make my appointment.

But then I thought, you know, I would gladly sacrifice those benefits to be sure that I was in a system where other people are getting looked after. I'd quite happily wait a few more weeks or months to be seen (with no likely health consequences). I'd quite happily consult with my GP about a referral. And all of that is, quite simply, because that's the way I think things should work.

So, at the risk of playing Smug Canadian (a game I try to avoid), I'll point out that this too is part of what I imagine to be Canadian values. Just as I'd choose to protect human rights over 'intelligence gathering', I'd choose to be part of a national collective that protects the basic healthcare needs of everybody over the convenience of those privileged to have good coverage. That's not to say that the Canadian system is perfect -- because it isn't, of course. But the principle behind the system is, well, the right one.

Aieee! Have I gone patriotic?


Fat kids and self-esteem

The Globe and Mail is reporting that overweight children suffer from anxiety as early as six years of age. I have no doubt that this is true -- but I'm going to object to the framing of the results in the report. Let's take this, for example:

Furthermore, as these children progressed from kindergarten to Grade 3, their negative feelings grew more pronounced, lead researcher Sara Gable says.

“They actually get worse, so you think about the mental health implications of that,” says Dr. Gable, an associate professor of human development and family studies. “It just adds to the body of research that we already have telling us the cost of the lifestyle problems apparent in the U.S. population.”

The clear implication is that negative feelings and poor self-esteem are a natural consequence of a 'lifestyle problem' -- rather than the result of others' reactions to one's body, or of messages that one receives about one's body. That is, fat kids have it coming, right? The bullying and social exclusion that these kids experience is simply the natural, predictable result of piggish, lazy living. A critical reading of Dr. Gable's next comment further suggests that this is her stance:

Overweight girls were especially affected by their heavy stature, Dr. Gable adds. Bigger girls had trouble getting along with their peers and exhibited other negative behaviours that emerged after kindergarten, including a lack of self control.

If overweight girls are "especially affected by their heavy stature", could it be because they are constrained yet more than boys by social norms about physical attractiveness? Could it be, perhaps, that we continue to value girls according to how they look -- and that perhaps being chronically devalued because of 'heavy stature' simply hurts? The vague reference to "lack of self control" suggests a tired association between fat and behavior, and also seems to correlate fat with undisciplined, and therefore unfeminine, conduct.

These results doesn't say to me that kids need to be put on diets: they say to me that fat prejudice starts incredibly early, and that it has the power to erode the sense of self of the young and vulnerable. They say to me that we need to stop looking at fat as a definitive marker of a 'lifestyle problem', and start focusing instead on the more complex business of talking about good health practices at any size. And they say to me that we have a collective responsibility to treat people with decency even if they're fat.

In the interest of disclosure: I was a fat kid, and I'm a fat woman. And of course I struggle with self esteem. But I stand firm on this point: if you devalue me because of my size, that's your failing, not mine. There is no natural relationship between size and self-esteem. This relationship is most transparently something that we construct in day-to-day interaction, in our media, in our culture. And while I'm all for research that explores this relationship, I am straight-up angry to see it reported as yet another reason to scold the hefty.

On that note: you know what's really lazy? Demanding that other people change their bodies to fit your aesthetic, rather than reframing your own perception. You know what's really a problem of self-control? Treating people -- especially children -- in a way that reinforces their low status, because it delights you to be so wonderfully superior. Give me the choice, and I'll own the sin of a big round belly or a wide lumpy ass over the sin of narrow-minded cruelty any day.