It’s safe to say Amal Clooney’s first trip to Toronto was a success. At the end of her hour-long chat with veteran journalist (and father-in-law) Nick Clooney, she said, “This is my longest time away from the twins—two nights. But it was worth it to come to Toronto.” Over the course of their conversation, they touched upon her work as an international humans right lawyer working on the behalf of people like Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, Yazidi Syrian refugee Nadia Murad, and Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists recently jailed in Myanmar. Speaking about Mahmy, Al Jazeera English’s bureau chief in Cairo at the time of his arrest by Egyptian authorities, she said, “This was a case that I thought was important. It was sending shivers down the spines of journalists all over the Middle East… I’m glad we prevailed.” Despite the seriousness of some of the subjects they touched on, Amal and her father-in-law kept the conversation casual, laughing and joking as they covered topics ranging from feminism to the free press to her Hollywood romance with a certain George.
“It’s no fun being interviewed by your father-in-law,” she quipped. “He says whatever he wants, and I have to answer.”
Below, some of the topics they touched on at Toronto’s Luminato Festival.
1. The Clooney clan’s fame
“For the first third of my life I was known as Rosemary Clooney’s brother, for the second third as George Clooney’s father, and now for the remainder of my life I’ll be known as Amal Clooney’s father-in-law,” Clooney Sr cracked as soon as they took the stage.
2. Amal’s own former refugee status
Considering their conversation came at the end of a week filled with news reports from the US-Mexico border about families fleeing persecution and violence, only to be separated from each other in America—and of course, given the sheer number of people currently seeking asylum the world over—the talk inevitably turned to refugees. Beirut-born Amal came to the United Kingdom as a two-year-old along with her family, escaping civil war in her home country. “Did you ever think about yourself as a refugee?” asked Nick.
“Not until the last few years when the word began to be bandied about in a toxic manner,” responded Amal. “We were escaping the civil war in Lebanon. I wouldn’t have been able to get the education I had or grow up the way I had… I’m grateful to enter a country that showed compassion. I wish that were happening more around the world.”
3. Canada’s response to the refugee crisis
“We’re facing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II,” noted Amal. “The numbers feel paralyzing—5 million Syrian refugees since that one conflict. But I’ve been impressed to hear about the private sponsorship program in Canada. Canada allows people to do more by sponsoring one person or one family. 200,000 refugees have been able to come here since 1979, and 18,000 in 2018. That can be an example to other countries.”
4. The issues facing women around the world
“The challenges women have today are different based on where they’re born. Somewhere in Africa, they’re fighting to not be genitally mutilated. In Asia, they’re fighting for [the right to choose] whom to marry. In America, they’re fighting for equal pay for equal work. But one problem everywhere is domestic violence and sexual abuse and trafficking.” Backstage before the event, Amal chatted with Sophie Trudeau about tackling the issue here in Canada too. “Toronto and Montreal are hubs of human trafficking,” said Amal. “It’s something we have to continue tracking across the globe.”
5. Life since marrying George Clooney
“Before, I had a flat in Notting Hill, and George would say ‘but the door opens onto the street!’” she laughed. “The paparazzi would be right outside.” Of course, when she chose that apartment, because of its proximity to her favourite Italian restaurant and Portobello Market, she couldn’t have dreamed she’d one day have paparazzi following her every move. “Hey, I’ve seen that movie,” Nick quipped, referring to the 1999 rom-com Notting Hill about a man who falls in love with a famous celebrity and instantly gets pushed into the spotlight. “Things changed quite dramatically,” Amal conceded.
6. The plus-side of fame
When asked by Nick what she considers the one good thing about her newfound celebrity, she says: “You can turn the spotlight and put it on something that’s important… The worst things happen in darkness. As an American Justice once said: Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
7. The duo’s rapport
Nick Clooney seems just as enamoured of Amal as the rest of the world. As she spoke of her most recent case, on the behalf of imprisoned journalists in Myanmar, she said, “We’re working closely with Reuters to try and get them out.” A brief pause and then, “That’s my girl,” says Nick. And as if on cue, the entire auditorium goes awww.
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