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Arabic to English Translation Sparks Words War

A London Ontario doctor accused of playing a role in an alleged terror plot on Wednesday led to an RCMP constable’s credibility being brought up as an issue.

Co-translator Cst. Driss Drissi translated a portion of a tapped phone conversation from Arabic to English in a covert RCMP operation that resulted in the arrest of Dr. Khurram Syed Sher in 2010 for allegedly co-conspiring on violent attacks.

Michael Edelson, who is handling the defence, challenged Drissi’s translation abilities. He accused him of “injecting opinion” into the written record.
Drissi admitted that his background is not in translation beyond informal training with the RCMP in Montreal, when Edelson pressed him to clarify his translation. He said he often referred to Arabic-English dictionaries and the Quranic Arabic Corpus for Islamic meanings.
“They are all accurate to the transcription described,” said Moroccan-born Drissi, who speaks fluent Arabic.

Edelson stated that he was “struggling to understand” why other RCMP officers trained in translation didn’t accept the undertaking, but Drissi said there were 85,000 phone calls intercepted and not enough people to translate.

Referring to the significance of context, Edelson said, “Just looking in a dictionary doesn’t necessarily give the context of a word. You still have to determine how it’s being used.”
Lawyers have previously come to cross-hairs on the accuracy of an audio recording in the Sher legal proceeding. It boiled down to the Arabic translations this time.

For example, the word “kafir,” which means “non-Muslim,” was translated as “infidel” on the transcript.
“You are injecting opinion,” argued Edelson. “You have injected a negative connotation here.”
Drissi denied the allegation and countered that there could have been more derogatory terms associated with “kafir.” Drissi also translated “kauraj,” which could mean “departure,” or “exiting,” as its Islamic definition: “physical Jihad.”
Sher, a pathologist in London, Ont., has pleaded not guilty to a charge of terroristic conspiracy. Two other alleged Ottawa co-conspirators cannot be identified due to a publication ban.
Sher’s trial continues Thursday.

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