The leader of a small group of Edmonton academics who have tutored Omar Khadr since his time in Guantanamo Bay says he is a gifted student with a curious mind that will serve him well if he eventually studies at a tiny Christian university as planned under the terms of his release.
In the fall of 2008, Arlette Zinck, who teaches English at King's University, which Mr. Khadr proposes to attend, and a handful of other professors began helping the young man learn math and science and study Canada's geography and literature.
Spurred on by an impassioned plea from Mr. Khadr's lawyer Dennis Edney at her university earlier that year, Ms. Zinck reached out to Mr. Khadr through letters and soon was allowed to begin teaching him.
His first assignment was a book report on Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone, a memoir of a child soldier in Sierra Leone.
"He wrote me a lovely book report that looked remarkably like a legal brief with numbered paragraphs," she recalled in an interview on Thursday. "He hadn't gone to school since Grade 8 or before, and what did he see on a regular basis? Well, legal documents."
Ms. Zinck and the group of about 15 other academics mapped out a curriculum using Canadian literature as the backbone to teach a range of academic subjects. The course started on the West Coast with John Vaillant's The Golden Spruce and ended on the East Coast with Anne of Green Gables, Ms. Zinck said.
In between, Rudy Wiebe's Peace Shall Destroy Many, a tale of Mennonites in Manitoba trying to hold onto their traditions, resonated most with Mr. Khadr, she said. Mr. Wiebe has become friends with Mr. Khadr, Ms. Zinck said.
Ms. Zinck testified before the United States military commission in 2010 at Mr. Khadr's sentencing, where she described his growth as a student. There she met briefly with him for the first time and returned to Guantanamo twice, in the spring and summer of 2012.
Mr. Khadr told a prison psychologist last February his shift away from the ideology of his upbringing with al-Qaeda was gradual, but depended a great deal on interacting with visitors like Ms. Zinck.