I recently learned of the death of one of Vancouver's greatest human-rights advocates. Frances MacQueen, the long-time executive director of the Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture, passed away in Santa Ana, El Salvador on November 26 at the age of 64.
In a 1993 Georgia Straight cover story, MacQueen told writer Jillian Hull that people who've been tortured were not likely to trust organizations in Canada.
MacQueen summed up her work this way: "And because they've been hurt by their own countrymen, as often as not, it was easier to sort of accept me. I'm a woman; I'm motherly. So it's much easier to ask for help from me. It saves face, too. I mean, if you've come with nothing, you've got nothing, so the one thing you've got to have is your dignity."
MacQueen immigrated to Canada from England in the 1970s, and she left VAST in 2007. She moved to El Salvador after a bout with lung cancer, and there she created a new group to demand redress for victims of political violence.
A memorial will be held at 1:30 p.m. on January 14 at the WISE Hall (1882 Adanac Street) in East Vancouver. A website has been created for anyone who wants to send their thoughts to MacQueen's family.
I last spoke to her in 2003 shortly before Vancouver was about to hold a plebiscite on whether or not to host the 2010 Olympics. The International Olympic Committee's ethics commission had just announced an investigation into complaints that the Iraqi National Olympic Committee had tortured elite athletes.
At the time, Saddam Hussein's psychopathic son, Uday, headed the Iraqi National Olympic Committee.
MacQueen told me that her group had assisted Iraqi torture victims, but said that they prefer to keep a low profile because they worried about the safety of their relatives back home. “The political repression inside Iraq is horrendous,” she said at the time.
When it came to torture, MacQueen didn't play favourites. She would speak out regardless of the ideological disposition of the regime that committed these atrocities. She will be missed.