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Doctor enters not guilty plea in as Ottawa terrorism trial begins

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Khurram Syed Sher arrives to face trial on a terrorism charge at the Ottawa court house in Ottawa on Monday, February 10, 2014.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

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Khurram Syed Sher arrives to face trial on a terrorism charge at the Ottawa court house in Ottawa on Monday, February 10, 2014.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

OTTAWA - A man who once auditioned for the Canadian Idol TV show has pleaded not guilty to a terrorism charge laid more than three years ago.

Khurram Syed Sher, a doctor of pathology from London, Ont., is being tried by judge alone in Ontario Superior Court after months of wrangling over how much information in the case can be made public.

Sher, 31, was charged in August 2010 with conspiracy to facilitate terrorism.

Wearing a grey suit and blue tie, he observed the proceedings from a small table near his counsel as the trial — expected to last four weeks — got off to a halting start.

During arguments Monday, one of Sher's lawyers, Giuseppe Cipriano, made preliminary points about the legal nature of conspiracy as it relates to the charge.

In essence, the defence is seeking more information about the accusation, Cipriano said after the hearing.

"It's just so we know what it is that they're alleging he's done wrong."

Both Cipriano and federal lawyer Jason Wakely declined to elaborate on the defence motion.

Judge Charles Hackland is expected to rule on the request Tuesday before the Crown begins to lay out its main arguments.

Following Sher's high-profile arrest, police said they seized terrorist literature, videos and manuals, along with dozens of electronic circuit boards allegedly designed to detonate homemade bombs remotely.

Police claim the alleged plot stretches from Ottawa to Afghanistan, Dubai, Iran and Pakistan.

A senior RCMP officer said at the time that an attack was still months away, but that the plotters were moving into a preparatory phase.

Authorities said they acted when they did to prevent the transfer of money to counterparts to buy weapons that would be used against coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Sher, a graduate of Montreal's McGill University, worked an anatomical pathologist at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital in St. Thomas, Ont., south of London.

He made international headlines shortly after his arrest when it emerged he had once sung and danced on the Canadian Idol program. He has been free on bail, under strict conditions, for years.

A publication ban on certain aspects of the case limits what can be reported during the trial.

In addition, the federal government has been trying to ensure portions of thousands of documents in the case never become public in order to protect the identity of a confidential source as well as sensitive relationships with foreign allies.

Records filed in the Federal Court of Canada indicate an undercover source working for Canada's spy agency and secret intelligence from the United States and Britain helped build the federal case.

At least some of that information came from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the London Metropolitan Police in Britain, says an affidavit filed by the RCMP in Federal Court.

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

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