Skip to main content

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr, shown in this undated handout image. Mr. Khadr, 28, is currently incarcerated in Innisfail, Alta., but a judge has ordered him released on bail.HO/The Canadian Press

Omar Khadr has witnessed a stream of soldiers, guards and lawyers during the nearly 13 years he has been in custody, but he's had little interaction with the public.

Rudy Wiebe, an 80-year-old Mennonite prairie novelist, is one of the few to have sat down with the convicted al-Qaeda terrorist.

While being held at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Mr. Khadr received a copy of Mr. Wiebe's first novel, Peace Shall Destroy Many, a story penned in 1962 that follows a young Mennonite man dealing with the conflict between his religion and military service during the Second World War.

"He found the challenge of facing traditions as circumstances change to be illuminating," said Mr. Wiebe, winner of two Governor General's awards for fiction. "He told me in a letter that it was the most interesting book he'd read."

After Mr. Khadr was transferred to an Edmonton prison, Mr. Wiebe first visited him in August, 2013, and has met with him four more times.

Mr. Khadr, 28, is currently incarcerated in Innisfail, Alta., but a judge has ordered him released on bail. He was shot and captured by American and Afghan soldiers in 2002, during a firefight in which a U.S. soldier was killed by a grenade. Mr. Khadr was then 15 years old.

Since then, he has been characterized by some as a jihadi who cannot be reformed, while others see him as a child soldier who was a victim of the Canadian and American governments.

As he now prepares for life beyond the wire, Mr. Wiebe says the young man who could walk out of an Alberta prison is positive and thoughtful, aware of his past but displaying a strong sense of humour.

"I have never heard him say one word of bitterness about what has happened to him; he is concerned about the badness of his past, but he wants to move forward," Mr. Wiebe said. "He wants to live a life as Canadian as possible."

Blinded in one eye and walking with a slight limp, Mr. Khadr carries a number of wounds from his battle in Afghanistan. As a result, Mr. Wiebe says he finds the man's positivity surprising.

David Gao has also met with Mr. Khadr as part of the man's tutoring. The director of the University of Alberta's centre for religion and public life, he's met him more than a dozen times to teach social studies.

"The third time I was sitting with him, it dawned on me that I was sitting with a young man who had lived an extraordinary and horrific experience, but had somehow turned prison into a monastery," Mr. Gao said. "He's a remarkably contemplative and present person when he is with you. I've spent time with other prisoners, but no one like this."

Both men say that, having spent so much of his life in detention, Mr. Khadr has relished the small hints of normalcy he has been exposed to so far. He's excitedly spoken about seeing Edmonton through a car window, and his delight at seeing people walking in front of homes and green yards.