The Georgia Straight

In 1993, Frances appeared on the cover of the Georgia Straight and was interviewed around her work with survivors of torture in Vancouver.

Please click on the images below to read the story:




3 thoughts on “The Georgia Straight

  1. Frances MacQueen Memorial

    First, allow us to express our profound condolences over the irreparable loss of Frances MacQueen to her family, Sarah, John, Peter and grandchildren, as well as to her friends and colleagues. In particular, we grieve with Dr. Mahshid Esfandiari, her long-time colleague and close friend. Frances was a wonderful professional, colleague, and friend who stands out as really authentic, committed, courageous, intelligent, and compassionate. We regret not being here with you today to read this in person, but feel honored to share with you what we said in the nomination to the Ganesan Award which was awarded to Ms. MacQueen in 2008 as well as a few additional thoughts. The award came with a monetary sum which she chose to donate to VAST, even though she was no longer at the agency.

    We have been privileged to attend some of the Cross-Cultural Mental Health Symposia where we have learned about, met and, visited representatives of various agencies serving refugees in Canada. One agency that stood out in British Columbia was the Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture (VAST) where Ms. Frances MacQueen had served for over 20 years, first as a volunteer and subsequently as Coordinator.


    Ms. MacQueen had innovated at several levels. First, and most obvious to many of those who come to VAST, she always worked as a member of a team that she helped to develop to build a set of innovative model of services, now widely known as the “VAST Principles of Care.” Second, she worked with her colleagues to integrate a full range of therapeutic techniques that sought to address a wide range of needs of those survivors of torture who came to VAST. This work included the integration of complementary therapies into the mix of services provided to those in need (See Esfandiari & MacQueen, 2000; Vargas, O’Rourke, & Esfandiari, 2004, 2004a).

    With her team, Ms. MacQueen considered the physical, emotional, cultural, and spiritual dimensions of pain among survivors of torture. To meet those needs, she supported the integration of psychotherapy with diverse bodywork and physiotherapy, as well as recreation appropriate to the socio-cultural context of the survivors. She supported the use of complementary therapies because, along with other techniques, they can help to more fully address chronic pain associated with torture. (See Vargas, O’Rourke, and Esfandiari, 2004, p. 132).

    Third, she has sought to work with her team to determine the best match of services for those who came to VAST based on the medical, cultural, and psycho-social needs of a survivor of torture. Indeed, “Practicing complementary therapies necessitates close collaboration and partnership among the survivor of torture, the psychotherapist, and the bodywork practitioner to respond with sensitivity and care to the survivor’s pain, emotional and physical. It is vital to ask for permission from the survivor to see a bodywork practitioner, because the experience of pain is so deeply personal.” (Vargas, O’Rourke, and Esfandiari, 2004, p. 134).

    Fourth, she was an extraordinarily effective advocate for the individual survivors of torture with whom she had worked, for VAST as an organization, and for legal and policy reform in the refugee determination system.


    The VAST principles have been copied by others as a model for sensitive and effective clinical care. Complementary therapies as practiced at VAST under the direction of Ms. Frances MacQueen assisted many survivors of torture. These principles and techniques have been particularly effective because Ms. MacQueen worked with her team to build a socio-cultural context in the agency which was welcoming, inviting, and nurturing. That combination of attitude, services, and context were effective in addressing a range of challenges, including cultural bereavement. As in other efforts, Ms. MacQueen and her team simultaneously shared their skill and knowledge while learning from survivors particularly about other cultural grieving traditions. This combination of serving and learning has helped the survivors of torture to gain validation and acceptance of their experiences, breaking the cycle of isolation.

    Under the coordination of Ms. MacQueen, VAST offered an informal, inviting atmosphere. Survivors did not simply enter a formal, one-on-one counseling, clinical setting. Instead, they entered a safe, warm environment to connect with others – members of their own community or survivors from other cultures – to break the social and cultural isolation. Some specific ways this was done at VAST included the “Community Kitchen,” art exhibits, cultural celebrations, and publication of stories and poetry authored by survivors of torture in the VAST Newsletter.

    The innovations embraced by VAST through Ms. MacQueen’s unwavering commitment to survivors of torture, in concert with a with a safe, friendly, caring culturally sensitive context, promoted healing at various levels – emotional, physical, cultural as well as spiritual.

    In serving survivors of torture, Ms. MacQueen was an integral member of the team since its early inception with significant impacts on the survivors of torture including enhanced sense of safety, recovery from atrocities, and promotion of well-being. She shared her family, home, and heart with survivors of torture who sought solace, emotional support, safety, a sense of futurity, and hope at VAST. We were honored to nominate Ms. Frances MacQueen for 2008 the Soma Ganesan Spirit of Hope Award.


    That spirit of hope, compassion, and loving kindness took her to El Salvador, a country which had been devastated by a protracted civil war with serious collective psycho-social consequences to several generations, to initiate a place where survivors of torture and their

    children could find affirmation and healing. And there she continued her work as a caring and compassionate citizen of the world. Her excitement in telling us about this endeavor infused us with hope and encouragement for a better future, especially for those often forgotten who have endured tortured in silence and isolation. Frances offered them a hand to bring them out of their solitudes, Frances offered them her extensive experience and expertise to create a center where they could begin a healing process, Frances offered them her heart to heal them with her infectious love, passion, and compassion.

    Frances also loved deeply her family, her children, John, Peter, and Sarah, grandchildren and her vast extended family. We still remember her excitement and anticipation about becoming a grandmother for the first time. She felt profound pride in her daughter, Sarah, who worked as a member of the team at VAST providing complementary therapies. Her other children, particularly Peter, were certainly a source of pride and encouragement. Peter’s accomplishments and dedication to humanitarian causes filled her with hope. There were many others for whom her loved abounded, among them, Nina, a talented poet. Her friendship and professional partnership with Dr. Mahshid Esfandiari and Dr. Soma Ganesan exemplified professional commitment, authenticity, and genuine care for survivors of torture, for their team, and for each other.

    Frances’ life was cut short prematurely, and we mourn her irreplaceable life. It will take time to heal, although we will never forget Frances. Meantime, we must seek encouragement from her tireless spirit and unbounded compassion and love to work for those too often forgotten and disenfranchised. May her spirit inspire each one of us to continue her labor of love in our lives. We will miss you greatly, beloved friend, querida amiga, but feel privileged and honored to have shared a bit of the road with you.

    Phillip J. Cooper, Ph.D. Claudia María Vargas, Ph.D.

  2. Frances had a way of knowing instinctively when to prod, pull, and push when it came to providing support for those of us who needed it.
    She first prodded me in 1983 to be involved with refugee claimants when they arrived at YVR and pulled me along side to offer her contacts and assistance. Thank you,Frances, for pushing me to be and do more than I would have without your spark of genius and warm heart. You will be missed but your influence will not be forgotten nor diminished.

    Layne Daggett
    YVR Chaplain

  3. An article published in 1993, that is mysteriously, still relevant despite adds for archaic cell phones, limosines, pagers, a floppy disk, and opportunity for free Sonic Tickets.


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