Nightmares coming to life: Ottawa writers stage reading of 'The Trial' in conjunction with Supreme Court challenge

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A few short hours after the Supreme Court of Canada hears the public portion of a precedent-setting secret hearing on Thursday, October 10, a collection of Ottawa-area writers and performers will gather at St. Paul's University at 7:30 p.m. to read a staged adaptation of Kafka's The Trial, the classic novel that begins, "Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning."

Ottawa-area writers Elizabeth Hay, Alan Cumyn, Monia Mazigh, Louisa Taylor and Matthew Behrens will be joined by performers Teri Loretto, Laurel Smith, Richard Gélinas and Zachary Council in reading a special adaptation of The Trial that contrasts the original novel's surreal story of a man trapped by anonymous allegations and the threat of indefinite detention with Canada's security certificate system, which condemns individuals to years behind bars without charge, based on secret allegations neither they nor their lawyers, the media or public are ever allowed to see and challenge.

Ottawa's Mohamed Harkat, arrested on International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2002 on a security certificate, is still fighting the government's secret case and potential deportation to torture in Algeria.

His case will be heard in public on October 10 and then, in a dangerous precedent, the Supreme Court will retire to conduct a secret hearing at an undisclosed secure Ottawa location on Friday the 11th.

"We read Kafka to understand how easily our nightmares become the life we create for ourselves, and for others," says Cumyn. "The Trial is a wake-up call, sadly never out of date, not even in Canada, not even now."

An adaptation of The Trial was first presented in Toronto in 2005 and featured readers including Ann-Marie MacDonald, Charmion King, Bernard Behrens, Linda McQuaig, Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis, Heather Mallickand Stuart McLean.

The adaptation, written by Matthew Behrens, was inspired by his attempts to send a copy of Kafka's The Trial to his friend, secret trial detainee Hassan Almrei, then marking four years in solitary confinement without charge in Toronto.

The book was not given to Almrei for undisclosed national security reasons, the ultimate Kafka-esque experience: a novel about secret hearings being kept out of the solitary confinement cell of someone subjected to secret hearings.

Behrens, the national security columnist for, has also coordinated the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada since August, 2001, working closely with the detainees, their families, lawyers and community supporters to raise awareness of the issue and challenge the unconstitutionality of security certificates.

A 2006 Supreme Court challenge proved successful, but the Harper government simply reintroduced a new version of the old secret trial regime with a few additions, including secret hearings conducted by "special advocates" who can see some of the secret case. The detainees, however, are no closer to learning the basis of the case against them, although declassified CSIS documents reveal much of the regime is based on information gleaned from overseas torture.

"For years, we have said these secret trials are the thin edge of the wedge, and here we are in 2013, with virtually no transparency when it comes to access to information requests, constant government claiming of secrecy and proroguing of Parliament as common as season change," says Behrens.

"If you had asked in 2005 whether we would still be fighting security certificates alongside these men eight years later, I would have thought it rather unlikely, but here we are, with all the revelations of malfeasance from CSIS and RCMP, and the courts still bow their head in deference when these scandal-plagued agencies request their secret hearings. I think most Canadians would be appalled to know the Supreme Court is holding a secret hearing on October 11."

Admission to The Trial is pay what you can, with suggested donation of $10, though no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Further information: The Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, (613) 267-3998 or [email protected]

This article appeared on Homes Not Bombs and is reprinted with permission.

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