It was the first formal group advocating for Mr. Khadr’s release and
raising funds for Mr. Edney, who was becoming financially drained by
the case. The group formalized Mr. Khadr’s advocacy in a way that King’s
couldn’t, at least officially. Still, Ms. Abougoush credits the Christian uni-
versity for legitimizing Mr. Khadr’s cause. “That they were advocating for
him had a major influence on public opinion because people valued their
opinion. And they’re people with a lot at stake. They had a lot to lose.”
King’s didn’t take an official position on Mr. Khadr until January 2015.
Until then, any student and faculty supporters were acting on their own
behalf. But, as his bail hearing neared in May of that year, Mr. Edney asked
King’s president Dr. Humphreys – who had only just started at King’s in
June 2013 – to write a letter stating the university’s intent to accept him as
a student if he were free. This, they hoped, would help his case by proving
that a reputable institution would embrace him on the other side. But first,
she had to meet the prisoner.
Along with Dr. Zinck, Dr. Humphreys drove the two hours to a medium-security prison in Bowden, Alberta and “everything that I’d heard about him
was confirmed,” she says. “He was thoughtful and engaged. We talked about
his day-to-day routine, the culture of incarceration and some of his schoolwork. And then, the future: I told him he would be welcomed at King’s.”
On May 7, 2015, Mr. Khadr was freed on bail by the Alberta Court of
Appeal and released under the supervision of his lawyer Mr. Edney. Mr.
Khadr asked Canadians at the time to give him a chance to show he was
worthy of their trust. “I will prove to them that I’m more than what they
thought of me. I’ll prove to them that I’m a good person,” he told reporters.
At King’s, students are assigned a personal advisor and that fall Mr.
Khadr was paired with Dr. Zinck. Every day she would drive to the opposite side of the city to pick up Mr. Khadr from Mr. Edney’s home, where
he is treated like a third son, drive him to King’s and drop him back off
after school. They have become close friends.
the sabbath year, or shmita in Hebrew, is the final year of the seven-year
agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah and mentioned in the Bible. It
was a Sabbath year in 2008 when Dennis Edney gave his Micah Centre
talk at King’s. And it was a Sabbath year again, in September 2015 – exactly seven years later – when Omar Khadr gave his talk at the same podium.
Wearing a black suit and black shoes, he was joined on stage by one of his
former correspondence instructors, Micah Centre director Roy Berkenbosch, for a discussion on the theme of “playing God.” Mr. Khadr was
visibly nervous. There were 600 people in attendance and he wrestled for
weeks about whether to take the invitation. “I’m just freaking out right
now,” he admitted to Mr. Berkenbosch in between laughs.
After gaining his composure, Mr. Khadr told the audience that the
biggest challenge of being free was learning to show vulnerability again,
to express his emotions, after 12 years in prison. The best part, he said, was
interacting with people who had no ulterior motives.
“How’ve you maintained hope for the future?” asked Mr. Berkenbosch.
Mr. Khadr took a deep breath. “A few years ago, I realized that if you
want something so pure, you have to get it from its original source. And the
most pure hope is from God. Once I realized that and embraced it … hope
opened a lot of doors for me, to bypass the anger that might restrict me.”
In the 16 months since his release, Mr. Khadr indeed seems to have
bypassed any anger and by all accounts is thriving in Edmonton. He finds
peace and anonymity in outings to West Edmonton Mall, where he blends
in with the crowds, and by tearing along the city’s tranquil, forested river
valley on his bike for kilometres on end. This spring, he completed a high
school diploma while earning postsecondary credits from King’s as a student of Western civil history and physical education. He is attending King’s
again this fall to upgrade a number of science courses in preparation for
applying to nursing school.
Omar Mouallem is a National Magazine Award-winning freelance writer based in Edmonton.
“That they were advocating for him had a major
influence on public opinion because people
valued their opinion. And they’re people with
a lot at stake. They had a lot to lose.”