KPU’s Multi Faith Centre Chaplain Shares his Thoughts on Omar Khadr

As a graduate of The King’s University, Ethan Vanderleek feels a personal connection to the community that fought on Khadr’s behalf
Braden Klassen, Photo Editor

Ethan Vanderleek, a chaplain at the KPU Multi-Faith Centre, attended King`s University in Edmonton where some of the school`s community helped advocate to support Omar Khadr before and after he was released from prison. (Braden Klassen)

Amid the controversy surrounding the $10.5 million settlement awarded to Omar Khadr by the Supreme Court of Canada, a member of the Kwantlen Polytechnic University community shares his connection with the story surrounding Khadr’s release from Guantanamo Bay.

Ethan Vanderleek is a chaplain who works in the KPU Multi-Faith Centre. From 2009 to 2013, he attended The King’s University in Edmonton, a Christian liberal arts school where some of the professors and students were coming together to support Khadr during his imprisonment.

“Dennis Edney, Omar’s lawyer, came and gave a talk and basically told the student body and the professors about the case,” says Vanderleek. “But [he] ended his talk by saying something like, ‘It looks very hopeless. Omar is going to be stuck in Guantanamo Bay and the Canadian government is doing nothing on his behalf.’”

He continues, “My professor’s response was, ‘As Christians, we don’t do hopeless.’”

That professor is Arlette Zinck, an associate professor in the English program at King’s, and one of Khadr’s most dedicated advocates. Zinck traveled to Guantanamo Bay to visit Khadr in prison and to help him catch up on the education that he has a right to as a Canadian citizen.

“They’d have him reading Canadian novels and studying history because he’s been in prison since he was 15,” says Vanderleek. “So he missed a whole big chunk of his education.”

Vanderleek says that he thinks the smaller size of King’s University may have helped to form the community that advocated for Khadr, but that the support was not unanimous across the campus.

“It wasn’t like there was no tension,” he explains. “There were definitely fellow students who were kind of uncomfortable with how vocal King’s professors were being about the issue, but as a whole, I was very taken and persuaded and moved by my professor’s willingness to visit the prisoner and advocate on his behalf for justice.”

He says that despite the fact that KPU has social justice-minded groups, discussion of Khadr’s situation “doesn’t seem to be in the public eye around here very much.”

Khadr had appeared in the news as a controversial figurehead long before his recent settlement, and Vanderleek is critical of this.

“It just seems to me that a lot of what has been said about Omar has been deeply politically motivated and kind of misses the tragedy and complexity of the situation,” he says. “It’s been made into this binary thing, like if you are in support of Omar therefore you are in support of terrorism, or something to that effect. And that seems to me like not a helpful way to engage the issue.”

Vanderleek wants to withhold judgement of whether or not Khadr’s financial settlement was fair or not, though he does believe that the Canadian government was doing the wrong thing by leaving him in Guantanamo Bay by himself.

“How can you put a price on 10 to 15 years of a life whose rights were—as the Supreme Court ruled—flagrantly violated?” asks Vanderleek.

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