WATCH ABOVE: A man who taught Omar Khadr in prison in Edmonton believes he’ll do extremely well in the future. Fletcher Kent has more.
EDMONTON — The first time David Goa met Omar Khadr, they had a conversation that has stayed with the long-time professor.
“The first day that I sat in a room with him, we launched immediately into a marvellous conversation about a number of matters at the very heart of Islam,” said Goa, “as well as about the public world and where our kind of civil society comes from.”
Goa, who is based at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus, teaches classes on religion and public life. His work focuses on religious tradition and modern culture and the civil life.
When Khadr was transferred to prison in Edmonton, Goa spent some time there with him.
“I had heard a lot about him,” recalled Goa. “I expected him to be pretty much like he was.”
“However, I will say… I could not have anticipated a person having that kind of traumatic experience being so settled in himself.
After being released on bail on Thursday, Khadr addressed the media. He asked Canadians to give him a chance to prove himself.
“See who I am as a person, not as a name and then they can make their own judgment after that.”
WATCH: Omar Khadr told reporters in Edmonton Thursday that freedom is way better than he thought.
The public remains divided on Khadr. Some see a person who fought with terrorists in Afghanistan and then pleaded guilty to killing a U.S. soldier. Many feel he should still be behind bars. Others say Khadr was a child at the time, with a father who was controlling.
“Mr. Khadr, as we all know, pled guilty to very grave crimes, including murder,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a news conference as he offered his thoughts and prayers to the family members of U.S. Sgt. Christopher Speer.
“Our government’s priority in these matters is always to make sure, first and foremost, we keep in mind the protection and security of the Canadian population.”
Khadr was captured by the Americans in Afghanistan in July 2002, when he was 15 years old. He pleaded guilty in October 2010 before a widely discredited military commission to five war crimes – including murder in the death of a U.S. special forces soldier. In exchange, the commission handed him a further eight-year sentence.
Dubbed “Guantanamo’s Child,” he was the youngest inmate and lone westerner left in the naval prison at the time. He remains the only person convicted of murder for the battlefield death of an American soldier in Afghanistan.
He returned to Canada from Guantanamo Bay, where he had been held for a decade, in 2012 under an international transfer treaty, and later said he had only pleaded guilty to get out of the notorious prison.
Last month, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice June Ross granted his bid for bail while he appeals his war-crimes conviction but the Canadian government made a last-ditch attempt to have the ruling stayed, which was dismissed on Thursday.
READ MORE: Timeline of the legal odyssey of Omar Khadr
“I will prove to them that I’m more than what they thought of me,” said Khadr on Thursday night. “I’ll prove to them that I’m a good person.”
Goa says this contentious figure is a man he’s seen continue to grow and change.
“Prisons often drive people mad,” Goa said. “But it also, for some, for a few, on rare occasions, it does give them a place of solitude, a place where they can truly examine themselves, where there’s time – a lot of time – in which to do that.
Goa credits his fellow teachers for their work with Khadr and describes his student’s lawyer as a “godsend.”
“If you think of yourself as 13 and then think of yourself as 28, there’s a bit of a journey there… for every human being. His circumstances were very particular, very traumatic, very profound. If you can come through it, if you can find yourself, it’s going to come about because of some very hard work.”
Goa describes the conversations he’s had with Khadr as among the best he’s had with anyone about matters of religion, spirituality and the public world.
“He has a very fine mind, he’s very present. What you see is what you get.”
“I think he will do extremely well.”
With a file from The Canadian Press