After Mr. Edney’s speech the room was silent. Finally, a young woman
in a hijab asked how she could help. Mr. Edney retorted with his usual
spiel – write your Member of Parliament, tell your friends – but, he said,
“it’s hopeless.” The kid was going down.
Then Mr. Edney exited the gymnasium and left campus.
“Looking across the room, watching the faces of these students,” re-
calls Dr. Zinck, “there was a sense of great discomfort.” She was disturbed
by the story and, even more, by the message of hopelessness. Powered by
tenets of reconciliation and renewal, King’s mission encourages action.
Throughout that day, students’ silence turned to outrage and they began
pressing faculty for answers. Dr. Zinck returned to the room before day’s
end to speak. “You’ve heard an impassioned advocate, [but] you’ve heard
one story. There’s always more than one story. As university students,
as people of faith, your duty and obligation is to do your intellectual work.
Get out there. If you’ve been moved by what you’ve heard, and if you
still feel motivated to do something, then do it. Because we don’t do
A month later, during an all-candidates debate hosted at King’s for the
2008 federal election, a student asked what the candidates planned to do
for the young Canadian detainee, who had been tortured and detained at
Guantanamo without trial for five years and counting. “There’s no doubt
about it, it is an injustice,” said the riding’s Conservative Party incumbent
Rahim Jaffer. But in the days that followed, then Prime Minister Stephen
Harper took a much more hardline stance, refusing categorically to extra-
dite Mr. Khadr from Gitmo.
To student Jeff Brouwer, who had asked the question at the debate,
this proved that the federal government wasn’t just complicit in what he
termed a national disgrace, but was an active partner. “We spend a lot of
money on democratic reform in fragile states and ensuring there is rule
of law. What’s the point of preaching the gospel of democracy if we don’t
honour it at home?” he asks. Against the backdrop of the federal election, the Afghan War and presidential front-runner Barack Obama’s calls
to close Gitmo, Mr. Brouwer, who is now 27 and works in Ottawa as an
economist, says he felt like a participant in a larger movement.
“Having Dennis stand there, the degree of separation became one,”
“As university students, as people of faith, your duty
recalls English student Sharon Ales. Soon, she, Mr. Brouwer and others
were ironing Mr. Khadr’s portrait to T-shirts with an X over his mouth
to represent Canada’s collective silence. Some 40 students wore them on
campus and refused to speak for an entire day, upsetting some profes-
sors. One group, Micah Action and Awareness Student Society, organized
a protest in downtown Edmonton with members of the city’s largest
mosque, Amnesty International and the University of Alberta.
This culminated in a panel discussion at Edmonton’s Winspear Centre
for the performing arts downtown. The guests were Mr. Edney and jour-
nalist Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, who’d reported extensively on
Mr. Khadr. More than a thousand people attended. “King’s is very small,”
says Ms. Ales. “It’s the kind of place where things just sort of happen and
everyone gets swept up in it. Then you look around and you don’t know
how it got started. It’s this beautiful microcosm of self-organization.”
“King’s stands above every other organization [in its support],” says
Mr. Edney. “Formerly, people would give me a clap, and I’d leave and never
hear from them again. But they embraced Omar’s story in a manner that I
hadn’t seen in my travels on his behalf. That was an amazing transition in
my journey. It gave me some hope.”
and obligation is to do your intellectual work.
If you’ve been moved by what you’ve heard and
feel motivated to do something, then do it.”