Harjit Singh Sajjan
Harjit Sajjan at NATO in Belgium - 2017 (37569965574) (cropped).jpg
Sajjan at NATO headquarters, 2017
Minister of International Development
Assumed office
October 26, 2021
Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau
Preceded byKarina Gould
Minister of National Defence
In office
November 4, 2015 – October 26, 2021
Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau
Preceded byJason Kenney
Succeeded byAnita Anand
Minister of Veterans Affairs
Acting
February 12, 2019 – March 1, 2019
Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau
Preceded byJody Wilson-Raybould
Succeeded byLawrence MacAulay
Member of Parliament
for Vancouver South
Assumed office
October 19, 2015
Preceded byWai Young
Personal details
Born
Harjit Singh Sajjan

(1970-09-06) September 6, 1970 (age 51)
Bombeli, Punjab, India
NationalityCanadian
Political partyLiberal
Spouse(s)
Kuljit Kaur
(m. 1996)
Children2
Residence(s)Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada[1]
OccupationPolitician
ProfessionPolice officer
Military service
Allegiance Canada
Branch/service Canadian Army
Years of service1989–2015[2]
Rank
Canadian Army OF-4.svg
Lieutenant-Colonel
UnitThe British Columbia Regiment
CommandsThe British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own)
Battles/wars
Awards
Police career
DepartmentVancouver Police Department
BranchGang Crime Unit
StatusRetired
RankDetective

Harjit Singh Sajjan PC OMM MSM CD MP (/ˈhɑːrt ˈsɪŋ ˈsæən/, HAR-jeet SING SAJ-ən; born September 6, 1970) is a Canadian politician who has served as the minister of international development since October 26, 2021. A member of the Liberal Party, Sajjan represents the British Columbia (BC) riding of Vancouver South in the House of Commons, taking office as member of Parliament (MP) following the 2015 election. Sajjan served as the minister of national defence from 2015 to 2021. Before his entry into politics, Sajjan worked as a detective in the Vancouver Police Department and was a lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Army. He is Canada's first Sikh minister of national defence,[3] and was also the first Sikh Canadian to command a Canadian Army reserve regiment.

Early and personal life

Sajjan was born on September 6, 1970, in Bombeli, a village in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab, India.[4][5] His father, Kundan Sajjan, was a head constable with the Punjab Police in India,[6] and is currently a member of the World Sikh Organization (WSO), a Sikh advocacy group.[7] Sajjan, along with his mother and older sister, immigrated to Canada in 1976, when he was five years old, to join their father who had left for BC two years earlier to work at a sawmill.[5][8] While the family was getting established in their new life in Canada, his mother worked on berry farms in BC Lower Mainland during the summer where Sajjan and his sister would frequently join her.[8] Harjit Singh grew up in South Vancouver.[8]

Sajjan married Kuljit Kaur, a family physician in 1996, and they have a son and a daughter, Arjun and Jeevut.[8][9]

Sajjan was baptized as a Sikh when he was a teenager, seeing it as a way to get away from a bad crowd, such as his classmate Bindy Johal.[5][10]

Military and police career

Sajjan joined The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own) in 1989 as a trooper and was commissioned as an officer in 1991. He eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He deployed overseas four times in the course of his career: once to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and three times to Afghanistan.[7] Sajjan began his 11-year career as an officer of the Vancouver Police Department after returning from his Bosnian deployment.[7][8] He ended his career with the Vancouver Police Department as a detective with the department's gang crimes unit specializing in drug trafficking[7] and organized-crime investigation.[8][10]

Sajjan's first deployment to Afghanistan was shortly before the start of Operation Medusa in 2006, during which he took leave from his work in the Vancouver Police Department's gang squad.[8] He deployed with the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group in Kandahar and worked as a liaison officer with the Afghan police.[5] Sajjan found that corruption in the Afghan government was driving recruitment to the Taliban.[5] After reporting these findings to Brigadier General David Fraser, Sajjan was tasked with helping the general plan aspects of Operation Medusa.[5]

Fraser evaluated Sajjan's leadership during the operation as "nothing short of brilliant".[5] When Sajjan returned to Vancouver, Fraser sent a letter to the police department which called Sajjan "the best single Canadian intelligence asset in theatre", stated that his work saved "a multitude of coalition lives", and noted that the Canadian Forces should "seek his advice on how to change our entire tactical intelligence training and architecture".[8][11][12] Sajjan was mentioned in dispatches for the usefulness of his tactical counterinsurgency knowledge in the planning and implementation of an unnamed operation in September 2006 to secure important terrain.[13]

Upon his return, Sajjan left his position with the Vancouver police, but stayed as a reservist and started his own consulting business that taught intelligence gathering techniques to Canadian and American military personnel.[5] He also consulted for US policy analyst and Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin, which began as a correspondence over Sajjan's views on how to tackle the Afghan opium trade and evolved into a collaboration as advisers to American military and diplomatic leaders in Afghanistan.[8][14]

Sajjan returned to Afghanistan for another tour of duty in 2009, taking another tour of leave from the Vancouver Police Department to do so.[8] Having already taken two leaves of absence, Sajjan had to leave the Vancouver Police Department for his third tour of duty in 2010, during which he was assigned as a special assistant to then Major-General James L. Terry, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan.[8][11]

In 2011, he became the first Sikh to command a Canadian Army reserve regiment when he was named commander of The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own).[15]

He was bestowed with the Meritorious Service Medal in 2012[16] for diluting the Taliban's influence in Kandahar Province.[7] He has also been awarded the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal,[7] the Order of Military Merit award, and served as Aide-de-Camp to the lieutenant governor of British Columbia.[17]

His Sikh beliefs require him to keep his facial hair which prevents the use of regular military gas masks, so Sajjan invented his own gas mask that worked with his beard, and patented it in 1996.[10][18]

Political career

Sajjan speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum in 2016
Sajjan speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum in 2016
Sajjan and other members of Trudeau's cabinet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February 2018
Sajjan and other members of Trudeau's cabinet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February 2018
Sajjan with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis in December 2018
Sajjan with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis in December 2018

Sajjan was elected for the riding of Vancouver South during the 2015 federal election, defeating Conservative incumbent Wai Young.[19][20][21] Sajjan was appointed minister of national defence in the federal Cabinet, headed by Justin Trudeau, on November 4, 2015.[22] He was also briefly acting minister of veterans affairs in February 2019 following the resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould,[23] until the appointment of Lawrence MacAulay to the portfolio.[24]

His alleged links with the Khalistan movement have caused diplomatic friction with Punjab's former chief minister, Amarinder Singh.[25] Harjit Sajjan also has faced allegations from New Democratic Party (NDP) that he is "playing down his connections to the detainee controversy during the [Afghanistan] combat mission [Medusa], where Canadians handed over prisoners to torture by Afghan authorities."[26]

In September 2019, Sajjan attended an event that was held to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, for which he was subsequently criticized by the Conservatives.[27][28][29] A spokesperson for Sajjan said that he appeared in his capacity as a candidate for his riding and did not stay for long.[29]

Controversy over role in Operation Medusa

In an April 2017 public speech in New Delhi, Sajjan called himself "the architect" of Operation Medusa, a September 2006 Canadian offensive to remove Taliban fighters from around Kandahar.[13] In July 2015, Sajjan had made the same claim during an episode of the BC program Conversations That Matter, stating that General Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff at the time the story broke in 2017, saw him as "the architect" in the 2006 offensive.[30][31] At the time of Operation Medusa, Sajjan was a major in the Canadian Army reserve and a liaison officer to Task Force Kandahar, where large combat operations such as Medusa were usually worked upon by generals and colonels.[32]

One of the anonymous officers cited in the National Post, which first broke the story, called Sajjan's statement "a bald-faced lie", while others praised him on a personal level and for his expert intelligence work, but found his claim "really, quite outrageous" because the planning for Operation Medusa was collaborative.[13][32] Canadian historian Jack Granatstein said that Sajjan was a skilled intelligence officer who would have presented important intelligence in the leadup to the operation, but that he "certainly wouldn't have been the chief planner". Granatstein said that while the mistake was not one that was worth resigning over, it would still hurt his relationship with the military.[13] In an interview on AM640, Christopher Vernon, a British officer who served as chief of staff for NATO forces in Southern Afghanistan at Kandahar during Medusa, said that Sajjan's role in the planning was "more than integral" and that Sajjan was a "pivotal player" in the operation. Vernon noted that Sajjan had worked "hand-in-glove" with the Australian lieutenant colonel who was the lead planner and that without Sajjan's intelligence work, the operation would not have happened.[33] Brigadier-General David Fraser had also extensively praised the indispensable nature of Sajjan's role in Operation Medusa.[34]

Sajjan issued apologies in which he apologized to members of the Canadian Forces, the United States Armed Forces, and the Afghan Armed Forces in the operation, and noted that the successes of Operation Medusa were due to the contributions of all members of the Canadian Forces who were involved. Sajjan also acknowledged that describing himself as "the architect" was a mistake, and highlighted the role of Brigadier-General David Fraser in leading the team that planned the operation.[13][30][35][36]

Sajjan was supported by Justin Trudeau amidst calls from the opposition for him to resign.[37][38] A failed vote of no confidence in Sajjan was put forth by the Conservative Party of Canada in the House of Commons.[39][40]

Sajjan was moved from minister of defence to minister of international development in an October 2021 cabinet reshuffle.[41]

Honours and decorations

Sajjan has received the following honours and decorations during and after his military career.

Order of Military Merit (Canada) ribbon (OMM).jpg

MSM Ribbon-military.png
South-West Asia Service Medal with Afganistan bar ribbon.png
CAN General Campaign Star SWA two bars (390 days).png

CPSM Ribbon.png
Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal ribbon.png

QEII Diamond Jubilee Medal ribbon.png
CD-ribbon and bar.png
Army Commendation Medal ribbon.svg

Ribbon Description Notes
Order of Military Merit (Canada) ribbon (OMM).jpg
Order of Military Merit (OMM)
  • Appointed Officer (OMM) on 17 October 2012[42]
MSM Ribbon-military.png
Meritorious Service Medal (MSM)
  • Awarded August 22, 2012[43]
  • Military Division
South-West Asia Service Medal with Afganistan bar ribbon.png
South-West Asia Service Medal
  • With Clasp "AFGHANISTAN"
CAN General Campaign Star SWA two bars (390 days).png
General Campaign Star
  • South West Asia Ribbon
  • 2 Rotation Bars
UK MID 1920-94.svg
Mentioned in dispatches
  • Awarded June 4, 2008[44]
NATO Medal for the former Yugoslavia
  • with FORMER YUGOSLAVIA clasp
CPSM Ribbon.png
Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal
Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal ribbon.png
Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal
  • Decoration awarded in 2002[45]
  • Canadian version
Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal
  • Decoration awarded in 2012[46]
  • Canadian version
CD-ribbon and bar.png
Canadian Forces' Decoration (CD)
  • with one Clasp for 22 years of services
Army Commendation Medal ribbon.svg
Commendation Medal
Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff Commendation.jpg
Chief of Defence Staff Commendation
Deputy Minister Award
Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards

Electoral record

2021 Canadian federal election: Vancouver South
Party Candidate Votes % ±% Expenditures
Liberal Harjit Sajjan 19,910 49.4
New Democratic Sean McQuillan 9,922 24.6
Conservative Sukhbir Singh Gill 9,060 22.5
People's Anthony Cook 1,104 2.7
Marxist–Leninist Anne Jamieson 287 0.7
Total valid votes 40,283 100.0
Total rejected ballots 493
Turnout 40,776
Eligible voters
Source: Elections Canada[48]
2019 Canadian federal election: Vancouver South
Party Candidate Votes % ±% Expenditures
Liberal Harjit Sajjan 17,808 41.2 -7.61 $96,879.65
Conservative Wai Young 14,388 33.3 -0.58 $82,900.36
New Democratic Sean McQuillan 8,015 18.6 +4.63 none listed
Green Judy Zaichkowsky 2,451 5.7 +3.12 none listed
People's Alain Deng 532 1.2 $11,771.39
Total valid votes/expense limit 43,194 100.0
Total rejected ballots 431
Turnout 43,625 58.9
Eligible voters 74,114
Liberal hold Swing -3.52
Source: Elections Canada[49][50]
2015 Canadian federal election: Vancouver South
Party Candidate Votes % ±% Expenditures
Liberal Harjit Sajjan 21,773 48.81 +15.05 $161,402.16
Conservative Wai Young 15,115 33.88 -8.54 $118,748.27
New Democratic Amandeep Nijjar 6,230 13.97 -7.10 $63,954.79
Green Elain Ng 1,149 2.58 +0.37 $5,232.68
Marxist–Leninist Charles Boylan 178 0.40
Progressive Canadian Raj Gupta 166 0.37
Total valid votes/Expense limit 44,611 100.00   $203,440.39
Total rejected ballots 259 0.58
Turnout 44,870 64.04
Eligible voters 70,062
Liberal gain from Conservative Swing +11.80
Source: Elections Canada[51][52]

References

  1. ^ "Official Voting Results". Elections Canada. Archived from the original on April 24, 2020. Retrieved January 23, 2021.
  2. ^ Pugliese, David (November 10, 2015). "Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan released from military — so he doesn't have to take orders from generals". National Post. Postmedia Network Inc. Postmedia News. Archived from the original on April 30, 2021. Retrieved November 11, 2015.
  3. ^ Pugliese, David (April 12, 2018). "Harjit Sajjan orders crackdown as Canadian Forces Facebook page features racist, vulgar comments". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on April 30, 2021. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  4. ^ "The Hon. Harjit Singh Sajjan, P.C., M.P." Parliament of Canada. Archived from the original on December 10, 2019. Retrieved April 30, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Bramham, Daphne (September 18, 2012). "Who are we? Part 12: In defence of the rights of others (with video)". www.vancouversun.com. Vancouver Sun. Archived from the original on September 18, 2020. Retrieved November 5, 2015.
  6. ^ "Hoshiarpur village rejoices as Sajjan wins". www.tribuneindia.com. Archived from the original on November 20, 2018. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
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  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Geddes, John (March 8, 2016). "Behind the sunglasses: Harjit Sajjan's rise to cabinet". Macleans.ca. Maclean's. Archived from the original on February 5, 2016. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
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  14. ^ Rubin, Barnett; Sherman, Jake (2008). Counter-Narcotics to Stabilize Afghanistan: The False Promise of Crop Eradication (PDF). New York University. pp. 57–58. Archived (PDF) from the original on November 6, 2015. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
  15. ^ Garima Goswami, Taking Command - Lieutenant-Colonel Harjit Singh Sajjan Archived March 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, Darpan Magazine, April 20, 2013.
  16. ^ "The Governor General of Canada > Find a Recipient". gg.ca. Archived from the original on April 30, 2021. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
  17. ^ Meet Harjit Sajjan Archived November 5, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Liberal.ca.
  18. ^ CA patent 2189378, "Protective hood" 
  19. ^ Jon Azpiri (October 19, 2015). "Liberal Harjit Sajjan defeats Tory incumbent Wai Young in Vancouver South". Global News. Archived from the original on October 22, 2015. Retrieved October 19, 2015.
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  23. ^ Walsh, Marieke; Feb 12, Marco Vigliotti Published on; 2019 1:30pm (February 12, 2019). "Sajjan acting veterans affairs minister after Wilson-Raybould's resignation". iPolitics. Archived from the original on October 24, 2020. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  24. ^ "Lawrence MacAulay named veterans affairs minister in mini cabinet shuffle". National Post. Archived from the original on April 30, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  25. ^ By M.D. (May 8, 2017). "A minister's faith complicates Canada's relations with India". The Economist. Archived from the original on February 19, 2019. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  26. ^ Chase, Steven. "Opposition denounce Defence Minister Sajjan, make case for non-confidence". Theglobeandmail.com. Archived from the original on April 30, 2021. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  27. ^ "Glavin: Liberals still kowtowing to China's thugs –– just with a bit more subtlety than usual". Ottawa Citizen. Ottawa Citizen. October 2, 2019. Archived from the original on October 6, 2019. Retrieved October 6, 2019.
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  29. ^ a b "Defence minister ripped for attending gala honouring Chinese Communist Party anniversary". NP. NP. September 30, 2019. “During the event, Mr. Sajjan delivered brief remarks where he spoke of the long-standing focus of the organization on promoting diversity and their efforts to grant Chinese-Canadians the right to vote. Mr. Sajjan took the opportunity to state that the Chinese government needed to address the consular cases of the two arbitrarily detained Canadians. Mr. Sajjan believes in standing up for the rights of Canadians and has done so on numerous occasions. Shortly following the remarks, Mr. Sajjan departed. … Mr. Sajjan did not stay for dinner.”
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  35. ^ Sajjan, Harjit (April 29, 2017). "I made a mistake in describing my role. I wish to retract that description and apologize for it. I am truly sorry: www.facebook.com/harjit.sajjan.7/posts/675523262650123 …". Twitter. Archived from the original on July 12, 2020. Retrieved November 2, 2017.
  36. ^ Sajjan, Harjit (April 29, 2017). "The response to my remarks about Operation Medusa has been a good reminder of something important for me as a leader - always set a standard that honours those you serve". Facebook. Archived from the original on December 17, 2019. Retrieved November 2, 2017.
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29th Ministry – Cabinet of Justin Trudeau Cabinet posts (2) Predecessor Office Successor Jason Kenney Minister of National DefenceNovember 4, 2015 – October 26, 2021 Anita Anand Karina Gould Minister of International DevelopmentOctober 26, 2021 – present Incumbent