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Khurram Sher: A high-achieving, joking doctor

Khurram Sher hams it up during a 2008 auditon for Canadian Idol in Montreal.

After ambling up to the Canadian Idol judges, the bearded young man in stereotypical Pakistani garb bantered about how "I've been here for a couple of years, I came in 2k5" and proceeded to enthusiastically butcher pop warbler Avril Lavigne's hit song Complicated.

But little was real in this 2008 bit of reality television: First, the contestant wasn't a recent immigrant - he was born and raised in Montreal, a gifted student who raced through one of Canada's most prestigious medical schools by age 23.

Relatives also say Dr. Khurram Sher put on an exaggerated accent, shalwar kameez and oversized pakul hat as "a dare."

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It was, one cousin said, "classic Khurram." On Thursday, Dr. Sher's friends and extended family were in disbelief over his arrest and inclusion in an alleged terrorist plot.

Portrayed primarily as a wit and high-achiever, Dr. Sher is also an avid hockey player - his name pops up frequently on Montreal ball-hockey websites.

Nauman Abbasi of Toronto has known Dr. Sher and his family for years, and played hockey with him in Montreal at a tournament in May.

"He's a one-man wrecking crew in terms of scoring goals," said Mr. Abbasi, who described his friend as a satirical person and a joker, and strongly believes he is innocent.





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Relatives say Dr. Sher, 28, is the father of three young children, believed to be aged 1, 3 and 5; he married while studying medicine at McGill University, where among other things he was on the editorial board of an inter-faith newsletter published by the school's chaplaincy office.

Until completing his pathology residency in late June, he lived with his family in a modest suburban duplex on Montreal's South Shore, not far from the practice facility where his beloved Montreal Canadiens work out.

According to neighbours, Dr. Sher also lived with his mother and sister, his father having passed away two years ago.

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"We used to talk to them all the time. I just can't get over it," said Albertine Carrier, who lived next door and noted Dr. Sher used to come by with cookies and cakes to celebrate the birth of his children. "This is just beyond. In fact, I don't believe it."

Barely eight weeks after moving his family to Ontario, Dr. Sher stands charged with facilitating a terrorist activity.

Investigators have not revealed the extent of his involvement in the alleged homegrown plot.

Dr. Sher, 28, is listed as a director in the RS Foundation, a registered non-profit that provides funds and medical assistance for South Asian children.

The foundation's Montreal address corresponds to a business that says it does little more than set aside mail, which one of Dr. Sher's relatives collects every few weeks. The organization's Ottawa address is an apartment in the city's south end. Both addresses were removed from the foundation's website on Thursday; Adil Chaudhry, who is affiliated with the foundation, said "(the arrest) is a shock to all of us."

Dr. Sher travelled to Pakistan in 2006, after completing his medical degree, to participate in the relief effort after an earthquake in the contested Kashmir region; he sent photographs to a Montreal blog to detail the devastation.

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A year later, he was among the several dozen signatories of a letter to Stockwell Day, then the federal public safety minister. The letter complained about the treatment three Muslim-Canadian men then being held on security certificates.

Paul Collins, CEO and president of St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, said Dr. Sher began working there as a full-time pathologist on Aug. 3 and had come highly recommended.

"There was certainly no reason to suspect anything that we're hearing about now," he said. "Our whole hospital is reeling."

Mr. Collins said that in the short time Dr. Sher worked at the hospital, there were never any concerns about him or his performance. He was quite engaged in his work, Mr. Collins said.

"By all accounts, he was very professional."

The hospital is located about 25 minutes south of London, Ont., where Dr. Sher lives, and where neighbours described him as "very friendly and very nice."

Those impressions seem to align with those of his relatives, who insist the Khurram Sher in the Canadian Idol video is incapable of the crimes of which he is accused.

At the end of his audition - in which he moonwalks, lopes and performs a cringe-inducing robot dance - Dr. Sher looks into the camera.

"Ben's not here?" he says in reference to host Ben Mulroney. "I wanted to give him the hat and call him 'Ibn Mulroney'."

The performance was a hit with Dr. Sher's friends, one of whom commented on a Facebook page on June 17, 2008, "i for one am glad that he is attempting to show the nation that 'moslims' (sic) are not all extremist."

With reports from Greg McArthur and Joe Friesen

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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