Hot Docs Hit 'The Secret Trial 5' Comes to Toronto and Ottawa

Security certificate detainee Hassan Almrei spent over 7 years in prison
without being charged with a crime.
Sigh. It feels as if Canada is becoming more like the US every day. Luckily, though, our filmmakers are keeping Canada’s strong tradition of documentary film alive and stirring debate about the changing face of Canada. First and foremost among Canadian non-fiction films of 2014 is Amar Wala’s The Secret Trial 5, an incendiary documentary that hits theatres this week after premiering at Hot Docs earlier this year (review here) where Wala earned an honourable mention in the Emerging Canadian Filmmaker category and the film ranked in the top ten for the audience award.

It’s almost hard to believe that The Secret Trial 5 isn’t fiction, though, since the events chronicled in this provocative documentary detail the kind of political and legal risky business that one hardly expects to happen in folksy Canada. The Secret Trial 5 tells of five men living in Canada who were detained for years under the murky and relatively unknown Canadian law of security certificates, which essentially allow to Canadian authorities to arrest and detain and deport non-Canadian citizens residing in Canada without fully disclosing the charges or circumstances for which a detainee is removed in the name of national security. This powerful film becomes more resonant with time.

The film is doubly relevant, too, for the events following the film show that the fights of the five men known as the Secret Trial 5 are ongoing. Since premiering at Hot Docs, Secret Trial 5 subject Adil Charkaoui received his Canadian citizenship in July 2014, but the case of Ottawa-resident Mohamed Harkat, who received refugee status in 1997 after coming to Canada two years prior, was dealt a severe blow when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled to uphold the security certificate used to detain him. This ruling has serious implications for transparency in the Canadian judicial system, yet Harkat and his wife Sophie (a Canadian citizen) continue to fight.

 The Secret Trial 5 comes to Toronto theatres this week and screens here in Ottawa from Nov. 16 to 18 at The ByTowne following its successful festival run. If the film stung back in May, then it feels more relevant than ever as it hits theatres only weeks after the discourse on national security in Canada has been sharpened, polarized, and deeply politicized following the tragic shootings at the War Memorial and Parliament Hill in Ottawa in October. The Secret Trial 5 urgently asks how far the rights of the State trump the rights of the individual and, even greater, how the balance of this debate shapes the greater national character of Canada overall. Ottawa audiences will have a special chance to engage with the film, for the ST5 team notes that they will be holding Q&As and panel discussions after the Sunday screening. (Guests/participants to be determined.)

The debate the film inspires is essential in the current political climate and the direction in which this country is heading. I’m getting agitated just writing about it, but I must conclude by noting that The Secret Trial 5 is essential viewing for every Canadian.

The Secret Trial 5 open in Toronto at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Nov. 7.
It screens in Ottawa at The ByTowne from Nov. 16-18.