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Omar Khadr the focus of Nash Lecture

By Frank Flegel


REGINA — You don’t hear much about Omar Khadr these days, but he is alive and well, living in Edmonton with the intent of pursuing a career in nursing. At one time, in the early 2000s, he and his Canadian family were the subjects of much diplomatic activity between the United States and Canada as various groups in both countries advocated for and against his release from prison.

His journey from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay Prison to Edmonton was the subject of this year’s Campion College Nash Memorial Lecture held March 21 in the University of Regina’s Education auditorium. Lecturer Dr. Arlette Zinck is an associate professor of English and dean of the faculty of arts at The King’s University, a private Christian institution in Edmonton. The title of her lecture was, “Discerning a Path Toward Hope: A Liberal Arts University’s Journey with Omar Khadr.”

Khadr was 15 years old when he joined his father fighting with the Taliban against the United States invasion of Afghanistan. He was seriously wounded and eventually charged by the U.S. military for throwing a grenade that killed an American medic. He was sent to Guantanamo Bay where he was held for 10 years without trial.

As he was a Canadian citizen, attempts were made to have him released. Because he was not yet 16, various factions appealed to both the Canadian and U.S. governments and the U.S. military to return him to Canada. Eventually he was sent to Millhaven maximum security prison in Ontario.

His Canadian lawyer told Khadr’s story at an interdisciplinary conference held in Edmonton in 2008 and it was at that point that Zinck and some of The King’s students became interested in his plight.

“What happened next with the students,” said Zinck, “was remarkable.”

They began writing letters to Khadr. They researched his story, discovered the military had altered records to make him look guilty, and became advocates for his release.

“It was a moment when they came into adulthood,” said Zinck in response to a question. She used PowerPoint slides to emphasize her points. One slide contained the line, “Hope must find its way through lies, fantasy into facts and existence.”

Because Khadr expressed an interest in advancing his education, a group of faculty at The King’s University developed a special curriculum for him that included several Canadian novels, including Who Has Seen The Wind by W.O. Mitchell, that would help teach him the basics. His military guards became his stand-in teachers.

At Millhaven he requested and was granted a transfer to the maximum security institution in Edmonton where he continued his education. He was eventually transferred to Bowden medium security institution at Innisfail, Alta.

Throughout her presentation, Zinck talked about the value of a liberal arts education in teaching values needed throughout life. She and some of the students from The King’s University remain in touch with Khadr.

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