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Interview: Secret Trial 5

April 30, 2014

Chantal Sundaram interviews Sophie Harkat about a must-see film
The Secret Trial 5, an important new film about civil liberties in Canada, premiered at the reknowned Hot Docs film festival in Toronto on April 26. It takes on the persecution of five men of Muslim background under Canada’s unconstitutional Security Certificates, which subject those accused of terror-related activities to secret trials in which they are not permitted to know the evidence against them. The Certificates of Adil Charkaoui and Hassan Almrei were quashed in 2009.Three others remain under house arrest: Mohamed (Moe) Harkat, Mohammad Mahjoub, and Mahmoud Jaballah.
The film is by Toronto-based filmmaker Amar Wala, whose short film, The Good Son, a harrowing dramatization of the harassment of Canadian Muslims by CSIS, screened at festivals around the world and won several awards in Canada. The Secret Trial 5, Wala’s first feature film, took five years to make.
The Globe and Mail called it the only Canadian documentary at Hot Docs this year “to directly challenge the federal government on one of the hottest issues of the day.” The film was selected as one of the Toronto Star’s “recommended” films to see at Hot Docs and also one of the ten films to watch that focus on justice. Sophie Harkat, wife of Moe Harkat, attended the world premiere of The Secret Trial 5 in Toronto. I interviewed her soon afterwards.
Sophie, can you tell us in your own words why this is such an important film?
This film is crucial in bringing awareness against injustices that are taking place for 5 Muslim men and their families in Canada. A land of freedom, justice and democracy, but not if you get arrested under a Security Certificate and get labelled a threat to National Security. 
The Security Certificate allows for indefinite detention, 30-plus years combined for the men without charge, and without access to the evidence. Many of those years spent in solitary confinement. The men and their counsels are kept in the dark.
The Supreme Court of Canada found the Certificates unconstitutional back in Feb. 2007, now they are under review again and we hope they will be abolished for good this time around! We hope this film will help spread the word and get people to react.
 What was your own involvement with the film over the years it took to make it?
We started filming in Sept. 2009, one day after the surveillance cameras were taken out of our house and most of the bail conditions lifted. It was not my first experience with a documentary. I was not as enthusiastic about it at first because it is very time-consuming. I had to write many letters of support so the guys would get funding, send emails to supporters asking them to donate, shared contacts and kept them on top of things all the time. I had done at least two other documentaries before and thought I was done with it! After seeing their enthusiasm, their dedication, energy and professionalism, it was hard to say no and as the project was moving along, I was getting more and more excited about the end result. So far I can say this is the best documentary I have participated in by far. The film focuses on all aspects of the Security Certificate process and involves all the families this time around.
Who was at the world premiere? What was the audience reaction?
The premiere was sold out and many of Amar and Noah's friends and family were present. Some supporters came down from Kingston and Montreal to attend the premiere, but the best part was having all the families present.
Adil Charkaoui came down from Montreal. Mr. Jaballah was there with his entire family. His kids are all grown up. I remember the two youngest as young boys, now they are men. His oldest son is now a father of two kids. He has a lovely and strong family. I had not seen Mr. or Mrs. Jaballah since his detention at “Guantanamo North” in Kingston (the facility which was built specifically to house the Security Certificate detainees). I was very touched and honored to share the stage with them for the Q & A afterwards.
The crowd cheered loudly after the film ended and the families got a standing ovation when we got on stage. I was told the film also got a standing ovation at the second screening. It was a great and memorable moment! 
I am so proud of Amar and Noah for making it this far, they were dreaming of presenting at Hot Docs and the film is fantastic! Touching and disturbing at the same time. Their work is extremely professional and that is what impressed me most about the project. They put a lot of their own time and effort into this project because they really believed in it. I don't consider them filmmakers, I consider them great friends who have gone through a lot with us!
 Do you think the favourable reaction to this film shows a growing awareness of the situation of the Secret Trial Five and of Security Certificates in general?
Absolutely! But I have to say, I'm surprised to hear so many say they have never heard about Security Certificates before seeing the documentary even though it has been a constant and important issue in the news in the past decade. It shows there is still lots of work to be done.
I would say the majority of Canadians agree Security Certificates do not belong in a democratic society like Canada. People want the process to be abolished. I thank all the Canadians who have supported us through the years. We've gone that far because of them. I get my strength from the support and love, and knowing so many care is keeping me alive and fighting. Moe and I are very grateful for their support.
Tell us a few words about your husband’s own current situation.
Moe has been detained under one form or another (jail or bail) for 11 years. It has been a very long and painful process, but the support has been amazing. Last July, the GPS finally came off and Moe's ankle is now breathing for the first time in 7 and a half years! He is now allowed to use the Internet and he loves it! He had not been on there for over 12 years so he has lots of catching up to do. He still has minor conditions to follow, but we can finally breathe. He was detained for 7 and a half years under the toughest bail conditions in Canadian history until that point.
We also challenged the continued use of secret evidence/constitutionality in front of the Supreme Court for the second time this past October.
There is a ruling expected soon: can you tell us something about that?
The ruling could come down any day now. We have been waiting for 6 and a half months already. The waiting is the worst part and is extremely stressful, especially for Moe, but we remain hopeful and positive. Justice will prevail one day and the truth will come out!
There were 11 interveners that joined us at the Supreme Court of Canada challenge. The main arguments were against the continued use of secret evidence, the unconstitutional process, the use of Special Advocates (who were not given all the evidence and access to informants and sources), the continued use of destroyed evidence by the government and the credibility of the informant. In our case, all original material was destroyed (interviews, intercepts, notes, etc.) and the main informant failed his lie detector test. CSIS failed to inform the judge. His credibility was never tested in secret proceedings by the Special Advocates that were put in place for that. 
All this continues to make the process unconstitutional in our opinion and for all the groups that joined as interveners that day. Moe and the others never got a fair trial.
What are you hoping the impact of the film will be in the ongoing campaign against Security Certificates?
I hope people will react and act. Call your MP! Sign our petition and join thousands of other Canadians who want to see this unjust law abolished once and for all. Get informed, make a donation, tell others. Don't stay silent to injustice!

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