Not Queer Enough: Exploring the hypocrisy within the LGBTQI2A+

by Emilie Laferrière

Queer: “ of, relating to, or being a person whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual and/or whose gender identity is not cisgender ”

Not Queer Enough is dedicated to anyone who feels like they do not fit under a single gender or sexual label.

This series sheds light on a very real stigma within the Queer community, that of rigid exclusivity. Although the LGBTQ+* have historically been discriminated against, the
community itself also perpetuates structures of oppression within their own members. Strict definitions based on heteronormative systems have created divisions that exclude more than they include.

Inspired by Catherine Opie, whose work constantly pushes the boundaries of what we think normal is, I look to capture the day-to-day of queer strangers in the safety of their home, where they can perform for the camera a version of themselves they want the world to see.

These portraits showcase sexually fluid individuals who feel their queerness is inadequate. As I take the time to listen to their stories, their demeanour softens, and with no
superficial gaze, I am able to capture the humanity of the individual in front of me. Stories of pain, struggle and intolerance unify these individuals and many more, as their fluidity is
a source of shame and misunderstanding. Each of them exemplifies the heteronormative hypocrisy on which the queer community is built, and the outdated binary ideologies it
continues to perpetuate.

Like Opie, l share the belief that images can help bring about social change. As I continue this life-long series, I hope to encourage the Queer community to remember that more
than a label, we are simply just human.

* Note that the shortened acronym was used for simplicity. The full acronym is LGBTQQIP2SAA.

Emilie Laferrière

Em Laferrière is a photographer whose work explores themes of identity and queerness. Their goal as a photographer is to give others the opportunity to share their story and the version of themselves they want the world to see. They are currently completing their BFA at Concordia University.

Musings of a Pansexual Muslim Stoner

by Fadwa Bahman

Ramadan just ended
Breathe it all in
The first breakfast in a month feels like a new chance at life
like I’ve put on rainbow-colored glasses
Sucked back into a version of reality where
I am sipping iced coffee from a glass jar on my balcony,
browsing a psychotherapy office in Westmount
Capitalism exists again
I want to be a part of society again
I can ingest and inhale again

Music feels like something from a better universe again
And my mind wanders
Gets lost in the meaning of things without meaning
Eager to obsess
Hungry to find and be found

I take a puff and revel in the contentment
If this is hell, why would you make me want it
Why would you make me want her?
Why would she feel like home?
Like everything about her was an epiphany.
She didn’t believe in you and I believed everything that came out of her mouth,
Even on nights when her mouth left me more awake than caffeine pills ever could

Ramadan just ended
Bring me blue eyes to stare into
To feel like I’m in a foreign movie
Picturesque, pale, hazy, muted-colors aesthetic
Immerse me in Vanilla and strawberries
When in their company, the farthest from home I am
Does it kill your fantasy when I open my exotic mouth to call out your ancestors?

Ramadan just ended
And I know that this time next year I’ll be ready for it
About a month before this time next year
I will be longing
for a hole
in the earth or the sky I promise I won’t be picky
where I can please cease to exist, please
the relief of there being no “me”

Ramadan just ended
Farewell my love
It is time to feast and to slowly, painfully
fall in love with death again
Though you should never doubt,
I will be waiting for you every year to rescue me from my own selfish daydreams.
Rescue me like the little good girl they all wish I was.

The Empire of Racism: Dismantling and Resisting the Colonial Violence with/in Academia through an Auto/Ethno/Graphical Narrative

by Shyam Patel 

The corpses of academic trauma live in the bodies of people of colour. They exhaust — almost burning, rupturing — our existence limb by limb. As I trace — painfully extracting and exhuming — my own experiences and stories with/in academia, I am overcome by a sense of hardship and loss. Knowing that others like me, too, have similar travels with/in academia does not provide me with any form of solace. It only reminds me how treacherous and vile the culture of dominance, even with/in so called progressive and radical spaces, happens to be. Despite this, I still hold onto this notion of hope — perhaps even radical love — when I embark on dismantling and resisting colonial violence,  finding ways of bringing my own voice from the margin to the center. 

While reading Dr. Pat Palulis’ work, I reflect on the colonialist underpinnings of academia that often limit alternative ways of doing. She shares, “As professors colonized by the institution, we colonize our students who are eager to perform on their students what has been done to them” (Palulis 2009, 4). Adding to this, the realities of colonialist legacies with/in academia impact people of colour even more severely. Not only do we experience pain and trauma through the centralization of whiteness, we carry the burden of invisible work. The emotional labour of explaining the realities of racism, navigating whiteness, and negotiating our identities can be exhausting. This is even more harrowing when we explore the experiences and stories of women, queer, and trans people of colour. We see being white or whiteness as “normal” (Kendall 2002) and people of colour as oppositional to that supposed normalcy. Considering this, it is almost customary to fantasize about being white in academia, even temporarily (Bahia 2019) to feel a hardship lift itself; to be able to enter and navigate spaces without apologizing and being vigilant when speaking truth to power.

Drawing, then, on the work of Gayatri Spivak, the question of her essay title continues to be critical, and, dare I say, haunting: Can the Subaltern Speak? Spivak (1998) argues that the production of academic thinking is conceived and exported with the exploitative nature of Western tropes as the default. Within this, the term subaltern, as Spivak (1998) suggests, is not to be misconstrued. Spivak (1998) refers to the term as oppressed subjects — those who cannot speak and do not have histories with/in colonialist drippings. In academia, this is seen by the fact that research is oriented (Spivak 1998) and learning/teaching is still produced in the form of a banking model of education (Freire 2005). Furthermore, marginalized and stigmatized people are silenced with/in academia and our work is often only valued when it placates the narrative of whiteness. Thus, our ability to speak about our communities, experiences, and stories is confined by a white saviour complex — one that suffocates our narratives. Calling a resistance to this, Tuck (2009) draws attention to the problematization of “damaged-centered” research: “For many of us, the research on our communities has historically been damage centered, intent on portraying our neighbourhoods and tribes as defeated and broken” (412). There is a “historical exploitation and mistreatment of people and material” (Tuck 2009, 411), which I believe is another facet of the ongoing genocide towards Indigenous peoples. Suspended in this thought, I find myself awakening and rupturing, thinking about my own community/ies. All too often the perception of the third world, for example, is presented in the context of the “Other” and portrayed through a lens of poverty porn. Academia, under the guise of white privilege and white supremacy, continues to displace and disturb many of us. Perhaps the resonance of “unhomely” (Bhabha 1992) is one that will dissect us forever.

there is a light at the end of the tunnel. i run to reach it, but the further i go, the farther it seems to be. some days, i still see the light flickering. mostly, however, it seems to fade away and i wonder if the flicker of light was only a figment of my very own imagination.

Academia, however, is also a site of refuge for the wanderer. It can be a groundwork for healing and for (un)becoming. Palulis (2009) asks, “And how do we dwell with a simultaneous love and loathing for the premises?” (3). For me, dwelling and reflecting on my own experiences serves as a form of healing. Remarkably, Dr. Pat Palulis instilled in me this deep and enriching notion of the lived curriculum/a — one that centres and unfolds healing as a liberatory practice. She remarks, ““’[T]here is a gap that is still alive and this is where the work must be done. Not to close the gap but to work in the gap. To work in the space of the wound” (Palulis 2009, 4). I find myself swimming in the remnants of the wound (other parts of it still waiting to be retrieved) — its waxy residue plunging me into self-healing. In my two years in a Teacher Education program, I did just that. I sifted through the emotions and feelings of being a Brown man, with both privileged and marginalized intersections, and how the everyday experiences of racism impact me as a teacher and as a student. For once, I had somewhere to share; to volumize my body and identity into essays, journals, poems, reflections, and short stories. It did not come easily, but I found a reflective escape, to work on what Thich Nhat Hanh (2010) refers to as the inner, suffering child.

like limericks weaved on an open parchment, i find myself oozing in poetry — in this constant notion that haunts me and that has become a living memory of my life — that justice is a form of violence. in the realm of academia, it leaves traces of thoughts that follow me forever. i think about the time when a professor — in the opening slit of a margin (how ironically) — tells me that my writing is awkward. nonetheless, i come to resist — through small acts of protest — writing that speaks to a white narrative. i make indentations — dents that break into and penetrate a sentence — to allow room for a pause to linger — to let words seep into the reader’s mind. i refuse to let run-on-sentences evade me. sometimes, i enjoy the rambling of a sentence that tries to find a place of closure — not to end, but to find a home — a safekeeping. it is, in a way, similar to pressed pages being open. i feel liberated even when academia continues to be infiltrated by the perils of privileges and supremacies, looming at the corner of every page.

This notion of immersing myself with/in the compounds of my work — my artistry, my scholarship, my writing — ruptures me in a way that is almost exhilarating. Particularly, Aoki’s (1993) notion of the lived curriculum speaks profoundly to me. The lived curriculum/a or the curriculum-as-lived captures the diversities and experiences of our students. Settling in this notion, Aoki’s (1993) work has influenced me as I make sense of my location with/in academia, if such a place exists. For me, it is not simply a lived curriculum/a, it is a living curriculum/a, which requires oneself to perform constructively and continuously. Considering that Western tropes “racialize” the curriculum, lived experiences — the breathing out of suffocation — become ever so significant. As such, the personal narrative of the lived experience can poetically counter that racialization. As hooks (2003) writes, “I rely on the sharing of personal narratives to remind folks that we are all struggling to raise our consciousness and figure out the best action to take” (107).

encountering spaces that allow me to dissect my own livelihood, and, in many ways, resurrect my ancestry, allows me to find a place with/in academia. in the enclosed corners of a page, i am drawn into a vortex defined by a word limit…never ending, however, in its resonance. it is as if someone is listening to me, waiting on a story that slips from the ink of fingertips to (re)write the lines on a body. as if — almost gently — holding me, soothing the weeping soul that resides somewhere deep down with/in me. in that moment, i feel something has left its mark on me and i wonder if it will visit me soon again…

Similarly, there is value in lifting the text — its language and theory/ies — to speak to students. Discourse, in many ways, can be discursive and even harmful, especially if and when it is marred in colonialist thinking. At the same time, however, language and theorization can be “a location for healing” (hooks 1994, 59). As hooks poignantly says, “To heal the splitting of mind and body, we marginalized and oppressed people attempt to recover ourselves and our experiences in language. We seek to make a place for intimacy” (hooks 1994, 175). Borrowing further from feminist theorization, theory/ies can also be used to locate oneself (Lugones & Spelman, 1983); to find a place in all the disarray. Even though much of that language and theorization occurs in the English language, we must remind ourselves of the words of Adrienne Rich, “‘This is the oppressor’s language yet I need it to talk to you’” (hooks 1994, 167). I want to part from this realization, but it continues to consume me because I know the truth that simmers in those words. So, when I found language and theorization that spoke to me, particularly reading the works of critical race theorists and radical feminist thinkers, I was able to find the words to make sense of what I had been feeling — a feeling that had long overcome me. Echoing the words of Lugones & Spelman (1983), “The theory or account can be helpful if it enables one to see how parts of one’s life fit together, for example, to see connections among parts of one’s life one hasn’t seen before” (578).

when i read words that spoke to me, i did not only listen. i found myself in the leaflet with tears nourishing the veins. even when i found other words, sentences, paragraphs…i found myself returning to the ones that exhumed me. yet, sometimes i still feel that something is lost. that something, as i recover, is being taken away from me. i am suspended in this

In juxtaposition with these realities, there are the complexities that come with working against and with/in the lens of whiteness. Almost unknowingly, the disruptions, vis-à-vis a phenomenology of critical consciousness, we still (re)affirm critical race theories, intersectional feminist theories, queer and trans theorizations, and other critical pedagogies as a response — as an underlying cause and effect — to white academia. Furthermore, when we challenge whiteness, we are told that we always “make it about race” (Bahia 2019). As I landscape myself with/in the peripheries of academia, I wonder if such a remark will scar me, as well. It probably will and already has done so, but I will seep into the portrait, even if I have to clutch to the frame and make sure, in that “all about race” way, I dismantle and resist academia. In the words of Lorde (1984), “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood” (40).


Shyam is a former member of the QPIRG-McGill Board of Directors and is currently a graduate student at the University of Ottawa, where he is pursuing a Master of Arts Education (Studies in Teaching and Learning). Prior to that, he was one of the co-organizers and founding members of the Teacher Candidates of Colour (TCC) Collective and he is now the organizer for the Education Graduate Students of Colour (EGSC). In his time, he enjoys reading novels, watching anime, and writing poetry


Aoki, Ted. “Legitimating the lived curriculum: Towards a curricular landscape of multiplicity.” Journal of Curriculum and Supervision 8, no. 3 (1993): 255-268.

Bahia, Jasmeet, “A graduate student of colour’s navigation through the ivory tower,” last modified July 2, 2019,

Bhabha, Homi. “The world and the home.” Social Text, no. 31/32 (1992): 141-153. 

Freire, Paulo. The pedagogy of oppressed. 30th anniversary edition. The Continuum New York: International Publishing Group, 2005.

hooks, bell. Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994.

hooks, bell. Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Kendall, Frances. Understanding white privilege: Creating pathways to authentic relationships across race. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Lorde, Audre. Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. New York: Crossing Press, 1984.

Lugones, Maria, and Spelman, Elizabeth. “Have we got theory for you! Feminist theory, cultural imperialism and the demand for ‘the woman’s voice’” Women’s Studies Int. Forum 6, no. 6 (1983): 573-581.

Nhat Hanh, Thich. Reconciliation: Healing the inner child. California: Parallax Press, 2010.

Palulis, Patricia. “Geo-literacies in a strange land: Academic vagabonds provoking a pied.” Educational Insights 13 no. 4 (2009): 1-13.

Spivak, Gayatri. “Can the subaltern speak?” In Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1998.

Tuck, Eve. “Suspending damage: A letter to communities.” Harvard Educational Review 79, no. 3 (2009): 409-427.

Voluntourism and the Conflation of Compassion with Colonialism

by Gaby Novoa

Voluntourism “at its best” can open opportunities for cross-cultural exchange of skills, knowledge and experience (Devereux 2008); however, the work of Western volunteers and organizations within “developing” countries, while veiled as compassion, also functions as a continuation of colonialism. Every year, more than 1.6 million youth from the “global North” spend over $2 billion to volunteer in countries of the “global South,” with these young volunteer tourists being predominantly white women (Bandyopadhyay and Patil 2017). The imbalance of power dynamics upheld by voluntourism is further perpetuated through its visual dissemination on social media platforms such as Instagram (Sin and He 2018). However, the emergence of accounts that parodize or offer critical commentary on the ways in which voluntourists display their “Third World experiences” online work to confront these practices (2018). No White Saviors is an organization with over 306k followers on Instagram, whose mission is to decolonize mission and development work, while drawing attention to issues such as “poverty porn,” imperial dominance, and white supremacy. Portrayals which construct “developing” countries as in need of external aid, amplified through social media, helps to sustain a narrative that upholds the imperative for a Western grip on global influence and affairs. No White Saviors (NWS) challenges these discourses through direct intervention within the very mediums where such narratives are perpetuated.

While individuals involved with volunteer work in developing countries are perhaps driven by the desire to make a positive difference, their participation nevertheless operates within a structure that sustains colonial histories. The imperialism – and thus, racism – embedded within these practices may be even more damaging as they are not glaringly apparent, or are concealed within the disguise of altruism, making it difficult to blatantly recognize as harmful. The NWS graphic of boats atop water, titled “The sea of white supremacy & How the White Saviour Complex stays afloat,” quite literally paints a picture of the actions that contribute to the manipulation, control, dehumanization and oppression of non-Western countries: voluntourism, exploitative social media posts, tokenization, appropriation and white leadership within spaces predominantly for People of Color (POC) (2018, Oct. 8). This call to attend to systemic white supremacy underlines how the practice of Western aid within developing countries maintains a binary of those with privilege and power, and those who are dependent on the former (Banki and Schonell 2018). These relationships are sustained through the normalization of power imbalances, wherein Western influence is deemed necessary.

To unlearn the ways in which perceived help can in fact cause harm, as is often the case with Western intervention in developing countries, it is necessary to examine the ways in which such narratives are formed. Bandyopadhyay and Patil (2017) apply a post-colonial theoretical framework to analyze voluntourism. In their article, the authors dispute the issues ingrained within the language of dominant discourses by calling into question terms such as “‘underdeveloped,’ ‘developing,’ and ‘the Third World,’” which they argue homogenizes peoples and countries, while positioning them as “other” in relationship to the “developed” world (646). NWS also challenges this narrative, stating how these terms restrain countries to a “state of perpetual ‘development’” (2019, Mar. 26). Maintaining the narrative of certain countries as “destabilized” and “dependent” subjects their communities, their land and their resources to the exploitation of Western powers (2019). Jack Lule (2017) also underlines the significance of words and metaphors within the construction of globalization – this term itself is ambiguous with “-ization,” implying both an ongoing process and a finished outcome. Similarly, applying the term “developing” to non-Western countries both situates them within an incessant social, political, economic flux while also cementing their place within this state. In her examination of peacekeeping and Western military intervention, Sherene H. Razack (2004) pinpoints this global narrative whereby labelling non-Western countries as disorderly “Third worlds” justifies the involvement and interference of the “First world.” Thus, the words we use pave way for the actions that ensue.

The notion that white individuals are the ones capable of solving issues within developing countries – “white saviours” – builds upon the belief that “Third world” countries are in need of saving. This patronizing attitude undermines and disempowers the aptitude and agency of locals within those communities. Moreover, voluntourists are largely made up of underqualified individuals, often lacking formal training, whose engagement occurs through short-term stints (Banki and Schonell 2018). NWS regularly tackles these issues in their work. In their “2019 wishlist,” they declare, “no more short term missionaries coming for 10 days on a glorified vacation they fundraised for” (2018, Dec. 30). In a meme, they parody the idea of one’s “whiteness” convincing them that their “presence in another country is inherently helpful” and then the offense at being questioned whether they have the appropriate qualifications (2018, Dec. 18). These attitudes function within the scope of white supremacy by deeming the ability of Western outsiders as more valuable than the local knowledges and desires of the host community. Additionally, allocating projects to foreign volunteers disrupts local economies by neglecting to hire locals for the work (Banki and Schonell 2018). Moreover, given the lack of skills training, work undertaken by volunteers tends to be “unsatisfactory and incomplete” (Banki and Schonell 2018, 1477). Therefore, voluntourism functions as a flawed structure that neglects the autonomy of those within developing countries and promotes dependency instead of the socio-economic sustainability of a community. Participation within the voluntourism complex is problematic with even the best of intentions – and, at that, evidence of self-serving motivations have also been called into question.

Without losing all sight of the optimistic belief in humanitarianism and compassion, much of voluntourism tends to operate in the realm of ego rather than ethics. Banki and Schonell (2018) underline such ulterior intentions, asserting that voluntourists expect a “fundamentally self-interested return on their investment, whether it be in the form of self-actualization, work experience, Facebook profile picture or college reference” (1478). Where there is a wide range of personal gains for the visiting individual, Peter Devereux (2008) argues that there tends to be fewer long-term benefits for ‘the visited.’ Analyses of the benefits of voluntourism largely overlook the impact on locals with focus instead placed on the benefits to the volunteer and their construction, broadening, and improvement of self (Sin and He 2018). Because of the “great sense of achievement” that is promised by voluntour programs and organizations, Bandyopadhyay and Patil (2017) ask whether the purpose is to do good or to feel good. The conflation between the two, with research and patterns pointing to self-serving motivators, is what probes Banki and Schonell (2018) to contest that “voluntourism paradoxically risks undermining global citizenry” (1478). Intentions aside, this “goodness” is consistently expressed through voluntourists’ photo-taking and selfies, with its subsequent dissemination through social media.

The prevalence of documenting volunteer work for social media is cause for criticism, particularly due to how technology and media plays a role in upholding power and privilege. Jil Dan Yong (2015) theorizes social media platforms as tools by which Western dominance and imperialism can be perpetuated within a global context. Where colonial control of developing countries by Western powers, particularly the United States, has operated through military, ideological, economic and capital functions, Dan Yong argues it is now further spread and sustained through digital technologies. Sardar (1999) believes “the real power of the West” is rooted not in its mass economic and technological controls, but “in its power to define, represent, and theorize” (Bandyopadhyay and Patil 2017). Sardar’s argument coupled with Dan Yong’s thesis underlines Western supremacy at the roots of globalization, which is exorbitantly amplified through digital media, where narratives can be constructed – and filtered – to fit the dominant discourse. Lule (2017) parallels these claims in his argument that media plays a central role to the evolution of globalization and that the two work “in concert and cohort” (10). Therefore, it matters how relationships within voluntourism are represented online, particularly because they tend to normalize the “white saviour” complex, maintaining power imbalances.

Photos of aid work within developing countries, otherwise known as “poverty porn,” on social media perpetuates relationships of the powerful and the powerless. The exploitative practice is explicitly denounced within two of the four items NWS published in their 2019 wishlist: “no more poverty porn” and “no more #selfies of white people surrounded by Black and Brown kids” (2018, Dec. 30). In another post, NWS challenges this visual culture, and asks audiences to consider if they would ever want their child “photographed, posted to social media and portrayed as an object of pity” (2018, Oct. 23). NWS further contextualizes this post in their caption, where they discuss how asking for a child’s consent to be photographed still operates within power dynamics wherein they may not feel comfortable saying no. Moreover, consent does not extend to the written message that may be attached to the photograph; NWS asks audiences to be mindful of the way we tell others’ stories and whether they are ours to tell at all. Sin and He (2018) contend that the practices of photo-taking within voluntourism and the ensuing sharing on social media are “never innocent,” for they operate within the unequal relationships between the one taking the photos and the one being photographed (2). Because technology is already domineered by those with privilege and power, the stories about marginalized communities, being disseminated throughout online platforms, are often told about– and not by – said peoples.

The conditions for perpetuating stereotypes are created when those outside of the communities being represented have control of the narrative. Dignity of one’s story is best harboured through self-autonomy and expression. International media has long been critiqued for its portrayal of marginalized communities as helpless and lacking agency (Banki and Schonell 2018). Thus, with representation, comes responsibility; although, Sin and He (2018) question whether portrayals of the “Third world” by voluntourists can ever be at all responsible. NWS asks audiences (particularly those who partake in voluntour projects) to reflect on whether the photos and stories they share respect the pride of the person being photographed, or feed into stereotypes (2019, March 26). NWS refers to these direct questions and thought exercises as “flipping the script;” by emphasizing how otherwise inappropriate actions are customary within contexts of developing countries, it reveals the inherent “white supremacist power structures” at play (2019, April 5).

NWS, alongside satirical media like Barbie Savior and The Onion, play an important role in resisting hegemonic, colonial structures. Their dissemination through the same forums where supremacist narratives are proclaimed function as visual interventions. Sin and He (2018) assert that the rise of media content that critiques and parodies the performative nature of voluntourists online “creates a separate sphere in which such behaviour becomes governed and sanctioned” (18). Barbie Savior is a satirical Instagram account that crafts posts inspired by voluntourist activity online, which depicts a white Barbie doll in her “missionary” work across Africa. Her presence and popularity (with over 165k followers on Instagram) are effective in questioning the tropes of young, Western women through humour that is based on elements of truth: “It’s not about me…but it kind of is,” Barbie Savior writes in her profile bio. Similarly, The Onion, an online media company, also uses satire to challenge culture; a 2014 headline reads “6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture” (Sin and He 2018, 1475). Mockery of the role that social media plays within people’s volunteer experiences helps to denounce these practices while inciting reflection and reconsideration of the “ethics and efficacy of voluntourism” (Banki and Schonell 2018).

Allyship work therefore necessitates questioning motives and outcomes. Voluntourism programs often entail rewarding promises, such as self-growth and even career advancement opportunities whereas emphasis and consideration are not as focused on the local communities hosting these volunteers. While NWS contends that there is “no exact formula” in dismantling the “white saviour” complex, they assert that it is equal parts challenging the narrative as well seeing the POC within the developing countries rise in leadership roles (2018, Dec. 11). One of the many solutions to challenging the “white saviour” complex, NWS suggests, is to support Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) led projects and businesses. Millions of dollars are spent annually in financing voluntourists’ trips to other countries, where they will work often for short-term stints. This money can be of more value and utilized more effectively by locally established organizations whose approaches center on long-term sustainability. Moreover, instead of attempting to tackle the complex issues of another country, NWS urges audiences to first look at their local communities, towns, or cities and begin their advocacy and activism there (2018, Nov. 15). Online media critiques, such as NWS, help bring attention to systems of white supremacy and colonialism, while championing for an ongoing process of unlearning and listening.


Bandyopadhyay, Ranjan, and Vrushali Patil. “‘The White Womans Burden’ – the Racialized, Gendered Politics of Volunteer Tourism.” Tourism Geographies 19, no. 4 (2017): 644–57.

Banki, Susan, and Richard Schonell. “Voluntourism and the Contract Corrective.” Third World Quarterly 39, no. 8 (2017): 1475–90.

Devereux, Peter. “International Volunteering for Development and Sustainability: Outdated Paternalism or a Radical Response to Globalisation?” Development in Practice 18, no. 3 (2008): 357–70.

Lule, Jack. Globalization and Media: Global Village of Babel. 3rd ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.

No White Saviors. 2019 Wish List. Instagram. @nowhitesaviors, December 30, 2018.

No White Saviors. 7 Ways to Challenge the White Savior Complex. Instagram. @nowhitesaviors, December 11, 2018.

No White Saviors. Be a Community Activist, Not a White Savior. Instagram. @nowhitesaviors, November 15, 2018.

No White Saviors. Would You Ever Want Your Child Photographed…. Instagram. @nowhitesaviors, October 23, 2018.

No White Saviors. The Sea of White Supremacy & How the White Saviour Industrial Complex Stays Afloat. Instagram. @nowhitesaviors, October 8, 2018.

No White Saviors. Flipping the Script on Stacey Dooley. Instagram . @nowhitesaviors, April 5, 2019.

No White Saviors. Intentional States of Development. Instagram. @nowhitesaviors, March 26, 2019

Razack, Sherene H. Dark Threats and White Knights: the Somalia Affair, Peacekeeping, and the New Imperialism. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 2004.

Sin, Harng Luh, and Shirleen He. “Voluntouring on Facebook and Instagram: Photography and Social Media in Constructing the ‘Third World’ Experience.” Tourist Studies 19, no. 2 (2018): 215–37.

“The Global North/South Divide.” Royal Geographical Society. Accessed March 10, 2020.

a sexy crip manifesto

by seeley quest

1 sometimes I want to rip

Sometimes I want to rip out my bands of body pain to hurl—

I fight harsh wind and words all day, muscles set and edge on numb, and even if I’ve slept enough, I resist feeling how my back will again resist relaxing all today.

Yeah, I know I have to try Feldenkrais or yoga or visualization techniques or a salt bath, but again broke, my attention so focused on survival and hustling each day, I simply stumble into and out of my sleeping pad.

2 halfway there

Halfway there, I’m still trying to enact able-ness and tough attitude—fearful of lasting dependence on commercial routes of transportation, even though my ankles, knees, wrists, elbows and back feel the joys and growing weariness of biking me everywhere when I do.

Terrified years of repetitive work, habits have strained arms again, tendons telegraphing weakness, nerves numb: of losing the fight to pass as able-enough.

To present as a player of physicality and stamina, a queer who walks the talk.

As a teenager in a neck-to-pelvis spinal brace, my back muscles were given their orders by others; I didn’t have to negotiate how to carry myself in the world.

I was disabled, it was evident to all—I could relax inside bars and plastic against the shell of a defining framework, and I’ve known nothing else so awfully delicious.

3 part of that revolution

I’ve known other low-budget thrill seekers to instigate summertime “Cruising” nights in a big city park to fill a gap, after a wheelchair femme dropped plans to come to a queer convergence because no one had planned for its sex party to be accessible, and then the party was cancelled due to lacking an accessible space.

A chair user like her could take a playground’s pavement to be ravishing, but that terrain constrains choices, is more exposed to police or queerbashers than the park’s wilds.

I could clamber up hills, seek trysts in the grasses; it’s possible at the moment. But I’ve lived with a wheelchair dyke, who couldn’t dance that way and be part of that ableist revolution.

4 why not get ramped warehouses for playfests?

Lots of us want more public queering, more freedom. We want to be sexual for free, not contained to clubs or our homes, and claim the Great Outdoors for our playing fields. This doesn’t always exclude crips: since the 1970s bloom of disability rights activism, some physically disabled and cognitively disabled people have had moments of enjoying some sexuality publicly along with abled lovers, usually where body positivity and free love are most accepted.

Sometimes radically defying repression defaults to claiming rights to trick in the bushes, if it’s too risky in the street, too costly in the socially designated places. Yet, when acting for uncensored consensual sexual expression, to celebrate all that we can share with each other, why not do the work in spaces like warehouses for giant playfests to be accessible?

5 i’m a randy bugger, and not all the time

I’m a randy bugger, and not all the time, but do lust for play as hard and fast as it can come, to pitch myself in as far as my body will go.

I may want to work the heck out of a hottie and have to weigh whether I’ll risk pushing my back to its edge of wrecked, or hands closer to barely usable the next day.

It can seem worth it, the urge to burn in an abled fever dream. Yet every time I go to dance in a stairs-only club or house where there’s scented soap, I note who’s not there. Who won’t even pretend they can extend themselves like me.

6 who’s pretending?

Sometimes I fear apparent crips think I am: seeking validation for disabled status while still accessing lots of privilege. We all learn to say to each other, “your pain ain’t like my pain.”

Yet any age, we can have chronic body injuries, illness, and impairing pain inside: this culture has generations of walking, halting, and bed-ridden wounded.

Who’s pretending? I’ve pushed on despite my pain thresholds, driven to stay physically dynamic by others conquering the world on those terms. Masses worship youth and vigor, want as much distance from slowness and infirmity as possible.

In our cruising quests, in the states where we sweat, and long to know ourselves as desirable human doings instead of human beings,

I demand room for disability without fear from abled kin.

For crip power to be recognized, for it to really be ok to not strive to fuck in the park, not bluff with bravado about my limits—and still have sex appeal.

seeley quest

seeley quest is a trans disabled performer, facilitator, and environmentalist. Working primarily in literary and body-based composition, and curation, hir playscript “Crooked” is in At the Intersection of Disability and Drama, and work is in Buddies in Bad Times’ Rhubarb Festival 2021.  Not on social media, sie is at

List of Contributors



Alisha Mascarenhas

Alisha Mascarenhas is nourished by the relentless compassion and integrity of the allies, friends, artists, thinkers and teachers she is accountable to. She is committed to a creative and political practice of learning how to honour the land she lives on as a settler and visitor on the unceded Kanien’kehá:ka territory known as Montréal.

Brooke Nancekivell

Brooke Nancekivell is a former McGill student and Midnight Kitchen volunteer. They appreciate popular education, community kitchens, and the learning that happens around the cutting board and the dinner table. 

Cameron Butler

Cameron studied Bioresource Engineering at McGill, but spent most of his time writing about queerness and exploring questions like ‘what would engineering be like if it was queer?’ He currently lives in Montreal with his lover and works on addressing accessibility and mental health issues within a student residences context.

Délice Mugabo

Délice Mugabo is Black feminist activist based in Montreal and a member of the Third Eye Collective, a group that focuses on gender violence within black communities and transformative justice. Ms. Mugabo is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Geography, Urban and Environmental Studies at Concordia University. Her research will look at anti-blackness and/in islamophobia in Québec and muslim black women organizing in Montreal.

Francis Dolan

Étudiant au baccalauréat pluridisciplinaire en Histoire, Culture et Société à l’UQAM, Francis s’intéresse aux idéologies politiques contemporaines et à l’analyse du discours politique comme méthode de dévoilement des idéologies.

Kai Cheng Thom

Kai Cheng Thom is a writer, performance artist, and community worker living in Montreal, unceded Mohawk territory.  They are also a co-founder of the mental health collective Monster Academy Montreal.  They like poetry, nail polish, and sparkly stuff.

M’Lisa Colbert

M’Lisa recently completed a B.A (Distinction) in Political Science with a minor in English Literature at Concordia University. She is currently the Managing Editor of The Undercurrent—a national peer reviewed undergraduate journal of development studies and plans to attend graduate school in the upcoming school year. Her scholarly interests include: post-colonial narratives, morality, international development, renewable energy, definitions of public and human identity.

Molly Swain

Molly is an otipêmsiw-iskwêw from traditional Niitsitapi territory, co-founder of the Indigenous Women and Two-Spirit Harm Reduction Coalition, labour organizer, co-host of a nerdy Indigenous feminist sci-fi podcast, and Women’s Studies student who is interested in the imaginative and practical work of decolonization and Indigenous futurity. 

Robin Reid-Fraser

Robin is a graduate from the McGill School of Environment and is currently undertaking an industrial mechanics diploma in Montreal. She is interested in strategies and tools for building resilient, supportive communities in a context of global climate change, with a particular focus on community-based waste management initiatives.


Art Work


Dan Buller

I’ve lived in Montreal for nearly 20 years, doing all kinds of art. I was the editorial cartoonist for the Hour for 8 years. 

Jess Mac

Jess Mac  is an artist whose  practice engages with the intersection of institutional violence and the socio-political reality of personal trauma. Working with communities affected by stigma and oppression, she positions art as a tool to engender personal and political agency.

K. Kerspebedeb

K. Kerspebedeb has been politically active in the Montreal radical left for over thirty years. Most of his time is spent publishing books and working with people in prison. He also maintains a website ( of marginal interest.

Mohamed Thiam

Graphic designer, artist and maker of senegalese origins, Mohamed was born in Saudi Arabia and later studied in Nice, Paris and Detroit. Growing up surrounded by other, “Third Culture kids” he had no real sense of home or absolute culture. Now living and working between Montreal and Ottawa, he is on a perpetual quest to expand and enrich my visual vocabulary and multicultural richness, cultivated on four continents, each with their own systems, patterns and textures so as to enhance the way he narrates his stories.
Mohamed holds a graduate degree in 2-D Design from the Cranbrook Academy of Art and runs the design studio Momogoods.


Zola does street art on unceded kanienkéhà:ka and anishinaabe territories in Montreal. She is a white settler francophone woman learning how to integrate anti-oppression approaches into as many aspects of her life as possible. She has been most active in the student movement, anti-colonial and feminist organizing. 


Cover Art


Jenny Galewski and Matt Corks

Jenny Galewski and Matt Corks are friends who have worked together, laughed together, and watched their babies play together. Ils habitent à Montréal, où ils adorent les cygnes les plus ostentatoires possibles, mais ils détestent les oies spéciales.

Rad Enough: How-Anti-Capitalist Roots Shape the Actions and Identity of the Midnight Kitchen

Brooke Nancekivell

The Midnight Kitchen is a non-profit, volunteer and worker run food collective dedicated to providing affordable, healthy food to as many people as possible. Based out of McGill University in Montreal, QC we provide free/by donation vegan lunches 5 days a week, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 in the Shatner building on McGill campus.(“About MK”)
   The Midnight Kitchen (MK) is more than just a kitchen. It is a radical collective, an activist hub, an anti-oppressive educator, and a mobilizer for action. It is a space that allows social movements to germinate. Over the past decade, it has creatively opposed oppressive food systems by combining cooking and serving meals with teach-ins, workshops, and political conversation, together establishing MK as an autonomous space within social movements. Drawing on both academic articles and personal experience organizing with the Midnight Kitchen, I will discuss how the political institutions at McGill and beyond have shaped the creation and growth of organization. I will argue that its political history has shaped its anti-capitalist identity, which has in turn molded MK’s tactical choices and the role it plays in broader social movements.
Laying the foundation
   Midnight Kitchen formed in 2002 in response to the increasing privatization of food services on the downtown campus at McGill University. Chartwells Corporation, a sub-company of Compass Group, began operations at McGill in 2000 (Chiliak et al., Lewis). With over 50,000 locations serving 4 billion meals per year in venues ranging from prisons to sports stadiums to mining camps, Compass Group is the largest catering service and food provider in the world (“Who we are”). Soon after their arrival on campus, they began monopolizing food services, with Chartwells becoming the primary determiner of everything from distribution to nutrition to pricing, limiting the options and accessibility of dining for a campus of over 30,000 full-time students (“Enrollment reports”, Lewis).
   The process of large companies privatizing the food industry is a phenomenon seen not only on university campuses, but on a global scale. Chain restaurants, cafeterias, and grocery stores are increasingly becoming key sources of people’s everyday food intake, meaning that people’s options are dictated by a market-based system. Those with financial means are given access to a wide range of choices, but those living on low incomes face restricted autonomy and access in caring for their own nutritional needs (Lewis). The contractual relationship between McGill University and Chartwells Corporation is a continuation of this process, as well as a further invasion of private interest into the sphere of a public university. With this greater context in mind, I will discuss how Midnight Kitchen came to be, and why it was established in 2002, two years after Chartwells initiated its services at McGill.
   One explanation is provided through the theory of political opportunity structures. This theory, advocated by sociologist Sidney Tarrow, refers to the conduciveness toward change of the institutions within which a social movement takes place. The degree of openness, political leanings, and structures within an institution or set of institutions can determine aspects of social movement organizing such as timing, tactics, framing, and development of alliances (Staggenbourg).
   Midnight Kitchen was founded at a moment of opening in the political opportunity structure at McGill. In April 2001, Québec City hosted the Free Trade of the Americas Summit, prompting extensive organizing that brought students and activists together in anti-capitalist opposition. Connections made at the Summit led to the creation of GRASP(é), a new group at McGill focusing on issues of neoliberalism. GRASP(é) brought together students who were passionate, socially aware, and motivated to incite change. Its founding facilitated opportunities for students to meet and organize against privatization on campus, and they soon centred on Chartwells as a potential target. Without both the Summit and GRASP(é) providing the space for organizing, Midnight Kitchen may never have been formed (Lewis).
   Additionally, GRASP(é) connected student activists who had a variety of connections both on and off campus (Lewis). According to resource mobilization theorists John D. McCarthy and Mayer Zald, social movement mobilization is dependent on the physical, social, and skills-based resources that opposing actors have both access to and ability to activate. This not only shapes the advent of mobilization, but the form and tactics a movement adopts (Staggenbourg). Students didn’t have, for instance, the financial and political capital to block Chartwells’ contractual agreements with McGill, but they were able to mobilize social linkages, organizing skills, and cooking know-how to build the foundations of the Midnight Kitchen. Their liaisons with organizations such as McGill Chaplaincy’s Rabbit Hole Café, the Catholic Students’ Centre, and Food Not Bombs developed into powerful allyships that provided materials, space, and mentorship during the kitchen’s fledgling stages (Lewis).
   Their decision to take the route of community kitchen was also influenced by what Charles Tilly terms “repertoires of action”, or the modes of resistance that have developed and spread among activist groups (Staggenbourg). Midnight Kitchen had a local example of student anti-corporatization organizing in the People’s Potato, a collective kitchen at Concordia University which was formed in 1999 (“History of the Potato”). With three years of serving free vegan meals under their belt, the People’s Potato had legitimized student-supported community kitchens as a tactic against campus corporatization. Their existence set the stage for Midnight Kitchen to begin.
   Within the past decade, Midnight Kitchen has transformed from a handful of student radicals cooking in borrowed spaces until the wee morning hours to an established university service with paid staff, dozens of volunteers, hundreds of daily attendees, and its own autonomous kitchen space. These transitions have been significantly influenced by the political opportunities available at McGill. When Midnight Kitchen was seeking funding in its beginning years, it received financial and institutional support from QPIRG-McGill, a social and environmental justice organization with a mandate to connect campus and community (“About – QPIRG McGill”, Lewis). As it began serving more students, MK allied with the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU), which provided them with meeting space, significant cash inflow through a student fee levy, and legitimacy among the student body. Significant lobbying from members and allies enabled Midnight Kitchen to successfully advocate for its own self-designed, semi-autonomous kitchen space within the SSMU building. The choice of operating a community kitchen, as opposed to other tactics, to oppose corporatization on campus, also opened many doors. MK’s anti-capitalist motivations alone may not have garnered support from SSMU, which is not explicitly committed to political change (“Our Mission”), but its commitment to providing a service to students gave the two organizations a common ground for alliance. Political opportunities are not merely set by institutions; they are also shaped by the modes of resistance.
   Alliances with institutions within McGill also come with limits, however. Sometimes these are minor hindrances, such as not being allowed to serve lunch outdoors on gloriously sunny days, but other times they dramatically affect how the organization is run. For example, Midnight Kitchen’s finances are controlled by the SSMU, meaning that they are unable to withdraw cash on short notice, official receipts are required for all purchases, and payments are often sent out weeks or months after purchases have been made or services have been rendered. Such barriers may seem to pose a mere nuisance, but they limit Midnight Kitchen’s ability to act both autonomously and in accordance with its mandate. If the kitchen runs out of vegetable oil in the morning and there is no petty cash on hand, a volunteer must pay out of pocket and wait for reimbursement, which clashes with Midnight Kitchen’s anti-oppressive and anti-classist mandate. Although there are ways to maneuver around the system, it is important to note that the same political institutions that enable Midnight Kitchen’s work as a social movements actor also restrict its agency and independence.
Frames of Understanding, Frames of Action
…We aim to empower individuals and communities by providing a working alternative to current market-based systems of food collection and distribution. We oppose privatization, corporatization and other process that actively disempower people to obstructing their access to resources and independence… We recognize that much of the politics surrounding food production and distribution are part of a larger system of oppression… (“About MK”)
   Framing is the practice of activists and actors aligning themselves and their struggle as part of a broader social movement. It can be significant in shaping the public perception of the organization, in building alliances and choosing tactics, and in affecting decision-making practices (Staggenbourg). The mandate of the Midnight Kitchen, quoted above, clearly outlines the organization’s framing as a social movement actor. It is explicitly anti-capitalist, anti-corporatization, anti-oppressive, and committed to social justice. According to social movements analyst Suzanne Staggenbourg, these labels constitute “master frames” used by multi-movement actors to encompass the many shared injustices they address (Staggenbourg). Frames not only help connect movements ideologically, but also affect and reflect the day-to-day operations of a group. In this section, I will discuss Midnight Kitchen’s food procurement as one example of how its anti-capitalist framing affects its logistical decisions.
   Midnight Kitchen is no small operation. In addition to coordinating and executing daily lunchtime servings for approximately two hundred people, the kitchen caters for social-justice oriented actions or groups in Montréal. Given the aforementioned privatization of the food system, gathering sufficient ingredients to feed this many people while maintaining an anti-capitalist practice is a major feat. By establishing connections with local grocery stores to salvage produce no longer considered high-quality enough to sell, MK is able to use perfectly edible food that would otherwise be discarded. The willingness of grocery store employees to coordinate with Midnight Kitchen has transformed a miniscule political opening into sustainable fuel for the organization’s alternative structure. Nonetheless, MK still purchase goods such as beans, grains, and flour in bulk to supplement donations of produce. While they are working toward an anti-capitalist reality, the market system still constrains their actions and possibilities.
   Despite its limits, Midnight Kitchen operates a more oppositional practice than parallel groups at other North American universities. Earthfoods Café at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, for instance, is a vegetarian collective that also serves food daily to a large student population, but they purchase their food from grocery stores and charge set prices for their meals. Their framing is similar to that of an independent or cooperative café: business-oriented, but highlighting the benefits of collective management and the restaurant-specific organizational skills their employees gain from working there (“Earthfoods Café”). Both Midnight Kitchen and Earthfoods Café title themselves collective kitchens, but MK’s explicitly anti-capitalist mandate means it functions very differently.
   Yet even campus food collectives with similar framings may operate differently given their contextual political opportunity structures. Dalhousie University’s Loaded Ladle, for instance, sources their food from a local farmer through a collection of CSA (community supported agriculture) baskets. Sourcing locally is one of their methods of resistance to oppressive food systems, and it is facilitated by their positioning in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a small city surrounded by rural agriculture (“Loaded Ladle”). Midnight Kitchen could potentially liaise with agriculture programs at McGill’s Macdonald campus, which is based in the more rural Saint-Anne-de-Bellevue, but its location in the highly urbanized Montréal makes this strategy unnecessary, as there are a plethora of opportunities to reclaim edible food within the city limits. Even with similar political frames, organizations’ decisions are shaped by local contexts and opportunities.
From the Kitchen to the Streets
   Lastly, Midnight Kitchen’s anti-capitalist framing affects its role as a social movements mobilizer. Students drawn to the kitchen by its by-donation meal become daily attendees, forming relationships with other students, volunteers, and staff that are grounded in the kitchen’s political context. Polletta argues that autonomous spaces including collective kitchens can be vital forces in social movements as creators of culture (Polletta 1999, 11-17). They offer the opportunity to explore alternative structures of organizing society, with values that are oppositional to the mainstream. Yet, their engagement in prefigurative organizing can be exceptionally trying, as people struggle to work within a broken system to both heal and create new means of relating to each other and to organizing. Providing an essential service such as meals, Polletta argues, can help to mitigate these difficulties and to fuel such organizations in the long-term (Polletta 1999, 12). Such is the case for Midnight Kitchen, where the experience of both going for lunch and becoming involved becomes about more than just the food that sustains it and its members, but also the friendships and social justice education that come with participating.
   Beyond keeping their own institution afloat, Midnight Kitchen supplies a steady flow of mobilized students for outside movements and actions. Its position, especially due to its location in a university setting with strong supports, is fairly stable. It may organize workshops and teach-ins and provide sustenance for protesters, but it doesn’t organize mass-mobilizations or explicit direct actions. Rather, it educates people, engaging students who often have relatively few commitments into activist networks and providing a space for socialization into activism (McAdam).
   Through kitchen-counter discussions of homemade tear gas remedies, lawyers to consult after being arrested, and how the police systemically target people of colour and trans people, MK exposes injustices and proposes alternative ways to examine the systems within which we live. These discussions instill values that mobilize toward action. Sociologist Doug McAdam refers to this process as recruitment into high-risk activism and theorizes that connections to other activists and social organizations are as important for recruitment as factors such as one’s stage of life and relative availability. Midnight Kitchen facilitates these relationships, both between members themselves and between members and external organizing groups. When you know forty other people going to a protest and when you are familiar with the group organizing it, the distance from the kitchen to the streets doesn’t seem so far. Even if autonomous and prefigurative spaces such as Midnight Kitchen do not organize direct action against the strains and violences of our greater social system, they are oppositional in the socialization and mobilization capacity their existence enables. Such spaces are essential, but often ignored, aspects of social movements organizing (Polletta 1999, 11-12).
Collective Kitchens as Radical Spaces
   “Not rad enough”. This hallmark critique of activist communities, accusing the offending organization of not working hard enough, directly enough, or effectively enough for societal or political change, has often been charged at Midnight Kitchen. It operates out of SSMU, has strong connections to the university, purchases significant portions of its food, employs paid staff — according to some, its only purpose is to give free food to wealthy students at an elite university. These comments, however, ignore both the context in which Midnight Kitchen was formed and the roles that collective kitchens play in social movements. While smashed cop car windows, black bloc protestors, and blockades can be easily pointed out as “radical” actions, collective kitchens are more subtle. Their emphasis is cultural change rather than immediate and direct pressure (Polletta 1999, 14-19); they push slowly with the whole hand rather than poking with a single finger. In creating the opportunity for social justice education and mobilization at McGill, Midnight Kitchen is itself rad enough.

“About MK.” The Midnight Kitchen. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

“About – QPIRG McGill.” The Quebec Public Interest Research Group at McGill. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

Cilliak, Shayla, and Maggie Schreiner. “History of a Food Fight.” The McGill Daily. 27 Mar. 2008. Print.

Earthfoods Café. University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

“Enrolment reports.” McGill University. Web. 16 Apr. 2013

Freeman, Jo. “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” The Second Wave 1 (1972): Print.

“History of the Potato.” People’s Potato. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

“History – QPIRG-McGill.” The Quebec Public Interest Research Group at McGill. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

Lewis, Danielle. “What’s Cooking Good Looking?: an archive of Midnight Kitchen history.” [Zine] 1. Montréal. 2011

Loaded Ladle. Loaded Ladle, 2012. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

McAdam, Doug. “Recruitment to High-Risk Activism: The Case of Freedom Summer.” American Journal of Sociology 92 (1986): 64-90. Web. Apr. 2013.

“Our Mission” Students’ Society of McGill University. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

Polletta, Francesca. “Free Spaces in collective action.” Theory and Society 28 (1999): 1-38. Web. Apr. 2013.

Polletta, Francesca. Freedom is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Print.

Staggenbourg, Suzanne. Social Movements. Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

Tarrow, Sidney. “Cycles of Collective Action: Between Moments of Madness and the Repertoire of Contention.” Social Science History 17.2 (1993): 281-307. Web. Apr. 2013.

“Who we are.” Compass Group. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

Voluntary Standards are Smoke Screens: The Case of Pacific Rabiales Energy in Colombia

M’Lisa Colbert

Meet Pacific Rubiales
   “Pacific is Colombia” reads a recent marketing campaign by Canadian multinational oil and gas giant, Pacific Rubiales Energy. Pacific Rubiales is one of the fastest growing crude oil producers in the world and, for the greater part of the decade, they have been aggressively expanding in Colombia. Their average annual growth rate is an impressive 8.4% and their current market value is estimated at US$6.23 billion (Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp (PRE: CN) Market Data). Moreover, their CEO, Ronald Pantin, is one of the highest paid in the industry. He makes around 5 million dollars a year in compensation and benefits while the average annual income in Colombia is approximately US$692 (Executive Profile: Ronald Pantin, International Labour Organization). To put it in perspective, Ronald Pantin’s salary roughly amounts to the income of 7,225 Colombians. Pacific Rubiales is quickly becoming one of the richest crude oil producers in the world and the community of investors that have helped this company grow are being lead to believe that it is also one of the most socially responsible companies as a result of the way Pacific Rubiales conducts Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices internationally.
Voluntary CSR Standards
   Companies in the extractive sector works tirelessly to assure Canadian citizens that they protect the rights of local communities and share profits with them by highlighting voluntary participation in social responsibility initiatives. Yet in the case of Pacific Rubiales, voluntary CSR standards have not been effective. Social responsibility is both defined and decided upon solely by the company; members of the civil society have no access to the decision making process. Voluntary participation in CSR initiatives has been one way that Pacific Rubiales has bolstered their reputation to increase their shareholders and revenue without actually being accountable to the local societies in which they operate.
   For instance, Pacific Rubiales has voluntarily completed a CSR and Sustainability report annually since 2009 and they claim to have invested approximately $37,787,801 in social causes over this period of time. A few of the projects and initiatives they have either created or joined that are included in this total investment are: the Monitoring Committee for Investment Royalties (MCIR) — a program the company initiated to support transparency of royalty spending in local governments in Colombia — the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and Global Compact Contract (UNGC); the CORDEPAZ in Colombia, the Humanitarian Committee; the European Union; the Women’s UN; The World Bank; The IFC; and Export Development Canada. Involvement in these committees illustrates their commitment to CSR, at least on an international front, but it does not illustrate Pacific’s commitment to CSR practices in the towns where they operate — and where it is most important.
   Moreover, in 2012, Pacific Rubiales was honoured with an award for the Best Oil and Gas producer in CSR for 2012 from Capital Finance International, a London-based business and finance print journal. They also received an award for The Most Sustainable Oil and Gas Company in Latin America from World Finance, another London-based financial magazine that is produced by World News Media. Also, from Corporación Calidad, a Colombian IT Firm, and RS Magazine, a magazine published by el Centro International de Responsabilidad Social y Sostenible, Pacific received the Colombian National Responsibility award. Pacific’s most prized accomplishment is the UN Global Compact Award (Pacific Rubiales Sustainability Report 2012).
   However, these awards that Pacific has won are not of as much merit in CSR leadership as its shareholders believe. For example, World Finance details on their website that the awards they distribute are determined using a panel of “qualified judges” that oversees and decides on the votes presented to them by investors and members of the website (World Finance). It does not mention how they are qualified, but it is clear that investor votes and feedback from customers weigh heavily on the judges’ decisions. Moreover, the UN Global Compact Award is not as difficult to obtain as one might think. The award is granted to any voluntary corporate participant that pays their annual commitment fee. In the case of Pacific, that amounted to US$15,000 last year (United Nations Global Compact). It is awarded in faith of voluntary implementation of international CSR standards approved by the UN and voluntary commitment to accomplishing the millennium development goals. So, the awards that Pacific colourfully displays in its CSR reports every year are not much more than ink they have paid to put on the page. Their voluntary participation in these initiatives drives their shareholders to believe they are socially responsible, even though civil society in Colombia is not actually the major recipient of Pacific’s CSR initiatives.
   Pacific’s documented social track record has not only helped the company’s public image; it has also contributed to their eligibility for publicly funded loans. In 2012, Pacific Rubiales was approved for a supply chain loan from Export Development Canada (EDC). This raised questions and prompted activists and media to ask for further review as a result of labour complaints and protests surrounding Pacific’s operations in the Meta department in Colombia. EDC first commented on Pacific’s application for the loan saying, “…in terms of their social and environmental review directive or the OECD common approaches, corporate loans are generally not subject to review.” However, as a result of external pressure, EDC did eventually elect to conduct a review of Pacific Rubiales. Their preliminary research uncovered that there was in fact evidence supporting these complaints (Profile: Corporate Facility Review, Pacific Rubiales Energy). Nonetheless, the loan was issued as a result of Pacific’s voluntary participation in improving the situation. The EDC commented on Pacific’s steps toward progress saying:
…the company added a direct stakeholder engagement model through roundtable discussions…We engaged in an extensive dialogue with the company over its perspective on the labour issues, which included collaboration between EDC’s CSR group and internal country risk experts. Looking forward to 2013, one of PRE’s notable CSR goals is to formally adopt the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. We reached a favourable conclusion on the CSR front for this customer (Profile: Corporate Facility Review, Pacific Rubiales Energy).
   The EDC did not comment on whether Pacific was held accountable for its past actions and it did not require Pacific Rubiales to engage in dialogue with Columbian civil society or labour unions. This case illustrates the ineffectiveness of voluntary participation — in this model, it is the company, without consultation with civil society, that defines “responsibility”. Thus, the needs of those most directly affected by mining operations in local towns are those most often ignored and the EDC investigation was not of particular help to this growing problem.
Civil Society’s Evaluation of Pacific Rubiales
   Civil society’s analysis of Pacific Rubiales’ CSR performance has been much less positive in comparison to the EDC’s evaluation. For example, in July of 2014, nine Canadian organizations travelled to Colombia to attend a people’s tribunal against Pacific Rubiales after learning about complaints of poor working conditions and abuses of worker and human rights at PRE’s oil fields in Puerto Gaitain, Colombia (NGO’s Prepare Ethical Tribunal on Pacific Rubiales). The company was accused of, “systematic violations of the union right to freedom of association, the militarisation of the oil fields, violation of constitutional rights and practices that go against ethics, collective rights and the environment, non-respect of environmental legislation, profiting off the lack of state control over the taxation of production and causing the deterioration of public resources.” The final verdict of the tribunal found Pacific Rubiales guilty on all counts (Verdict of the Popular tribunal, PASC). USO, the national oil workers union in Colombia, also filed an official lawsuit in 2013 against Pacific Rubiales for violations of freedom of association, accusing the company of union-busting and oppressing independent labour organizing (USO Files Suit against Pacific Rubiales, PASC).
   Despite this lack of approval from Colombian and international civil society, Pacific Rubiales recently announced the World Bank and the International Financial Corporation (IFC) as investing partners in their latest expansion project, Pacific Infrastructure. Pacific Rubiales is overseeing the development of a new crude oil port and pipe line in Puerto Bahia, Colombia and, the IFC and the World Bank have invested over US$150 million towards their further expansion (Oil and Gas News).
   Thus, this case illustrates the need to include the voice of civil society in the Voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility model. Compared to current standards that have been put in place by those involved in the extractive sector, society has a much better understanding of what it means to be socially responsible. Civil society groups — from social organizations to indigenous communities to autonomous unions — are afar better source for understanding how socially responsible a company is, as they are outside the industry and experience the impacts of the extractive sector firsthand. It is important for institutions like Export Development Canada and the World Bank to prioritize civil society’s voice and sincerely consider civil society’s approval of extractive sector companies before funding their further expansion. This is the only way to ensure that violations do not continue to go unnoticed and that future investors are well-informed.
   The case of Pacific Rubiales in Colombia also demonstrates that there is a need for a comprehensive legal framework to formalize procedure, hold Canadian companies accountable for their actions, and aid civil society in its watch dog role. Until decision-makers and public institutions begin to take civil society voices seriously and until a legal framework is developed to hold Canadian extractive companies accountable for their actions, voluntary CSR practices will continue to be mere smokes screens, concealing corporate crime instead of bringing it to light.

Garavito, Cesare Rodriguez. El País de Pacific Rubiales. El Espectador. 24 Sept 2012.

Colombia. Export Development Canada. 2013. Web.

Executive Profile: Ronald Pantin” Bloomberg Business Week. July 2013. Web

Have Your Say: Vote Now in the 2013 World Finance Awards. World Finance. 2013. Web.

International Labour Organization. Global Wage Report 2012/13: Wages and Equitable Growth. ILO Publications Online. 2013. Web.

NGO’s Prepare Ethical Tribunal on Pacific Rubiales. Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie (PASC). July 2013. Web.

Pacific Rubiales Provides Operational Update. Your Oil and Gas News. August 7 2013. Web.

Pacific Rubiales Sustainability Report 2012. Pacific Rubiales. 2013. Web.

Profile: Corporate Facility Review, Pacific Rubiales Energy. Export Development Canada. 2013. Web. July 12 2013.

Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie (PASC). May 2013. Web.

United Nations. How to Participate. United Nations Global Compact. 2013. Web.

USO Files Suit Against Pacific Rubiales for Violations of the Right of Freedom of Association.

Verdict of the Popular Tribunal On the Extractive Industry Practises in Colombia. Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie (PASC). July 2013. Web