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Sajjan at NATO in 2017
|42nd Minister of National Defence|
|Assumed office |
November 4, 2015
|Prime Minister||Justin Trudeau|
|Preceded by||Jason Kenney|
|Member of the Canadian Parliament|
for Vancouver South
|Assumed office |
October 19, 2015
|Preceded by||Wai Young|
|Born||September 6, 1970|
Bombeli, Hoshiarpur district, Punjab, India
|Spouse(s)||Dr. Kuljit Kaur, MD|
|Children||Arjun Sajjan and Jeevut Sajjan|
|Years of service||1989–2015|
|Battles/wars||War in Afghanistan|
Harjit Singh Sajjan PC OMM MSM CD MP (born September 6, 1970) is a Canadian Liberal politician, the current Minister of National Defence and a Member of Parliament representing the riding of Vancouver South. He is Canada's first Sikh Minister of Defence. Sajjan was first elected during the 2015 federal election, defeating Conservative incumbent MP Wai Young, and was sworn as defence minister into the Cabinet, headed by Justin Trudeau, on November 4, 2015. Before politics, Sajjan was a detective investigating gangs for the Vancouver Police Department and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces decorated for his service in Afghanistan. Sajjan was also the first Sikh-Canadian to command a Canadian Army reserve regiment.
Harjit Singh Sajjan was born on September 6, 1970, in Bombeli, a village in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab, India. Sajjan's father, Kundan Sajjan, was a Head constable with the Punjab Police in India, and is currently a member of the World Sikh Organization (WSO), a Sikh advocacy group. Harjit Singh, along with his mother and older sister, emigrated to Canada in 1976, when he was five years old, to join their father who had left for British Columbia two years earlier to work at a sawmill. 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 Harjit Singh and his sister would frequently join her. Harjit Singh grew up in a neighbourhood in South Vancouver.
Sajjan joined The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own) in 1989 as a trooper and was commissioned in 1991. He eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He was deployed overseas four times in the course of his career: once to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and three times to Afghanistan. Sajjan was wounded during his service in Bosnia. Sajjan began his 11-year career as an officer of the Vancouver Police Department after returning from his Bosnian deployment. He ended his career with the Vancouver Police Department as a detective with the department's gang crimes unit specializing in drug trafficking and organized-crime investigator.
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. He deployed with the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group in Kandahar and worked as a liaison officer with the Afghan police. His fluency in Punjabi, his first language, allowed him to be understood by Urdu-speaking Afghans without translators, especially by village leaders who were invaluable to his intelligence gathering. Sajjan found that corruption in the Afghan government was driving recruitment to the Taliban. After reporting these findings to Brigadier General David Fraser, Sajjan was tasked with helping the general plan aspects of Operation Medusa.
During Operation Medusa, which lasted from September 2 to 17, four Canadian soldiers under Sajjan's command were killed in the fighting. Fraser evaluated Sajjan's leadership during the operation as "nothing short of brilliant". 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". 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.
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. 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.
Sajjan returned to Afghanistan for another tour of duty in 2009, taking another tour of leave from the Vancouver Police Department to do so. 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.
He was bestowed with the Meritorious Service Medal in 2012 for diluting the Taliban's influence in Kandahar Province. He has also been awarded the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal. He also received the Order of Military Merit award. He also served as an Aide-de-Camp to the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.
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.
Sajjan was elected for the riding of Vancouver South during the 2015 federal election, defeating Conservative incumbent MP Wai Young. Sajjan was appointed Minister of National Defence in the federal Cabinet, headed by Justin Trudeau, on November 4, 2015.
His alleged links with the Khalistan movement have caused diplomatic friction with Punjab's chief minister, Amarinder Singh. Harjit Sajjan also has faced allegations from the New Democrats 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."
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. In July 2015, Sajjan had made the same claim during an episode of the B.C. 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. At the time of Operation Medusa, Sajjan was a Major in the reserves and a liaison officer to Task Force Kandahar, where large combat operations such as Medusa were usually worked upon by generals and colonels.
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. 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, but it would still hurt his relationship with the military. 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 "a critical part". Vernon noted that Sajjan had worked closely with the Australian lieutenant colonel who was the lead planner as a member of his planning and design team and that without his intelligence work, the operation would not have happened.
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.
Sajjan was supported by Justin Trudeau amidst calls from the opposition called for him to resign. A failed vote of no confidence in Sajjan was put forth by the Conservative Party of Canada in the House of Commons.
Sajjan received the following honours and decorations during and after his military career.
|Order of Military Merit (OMM)||
|Meritorious Service Medal (MSM)||
|South-West Asia Service Medal||
|General Campaign Star||
|Mentioned in dispatches||
|NATO Service Medal||
|Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal|
|Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal|
|Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal|
|Canadian Forces Decoration (CD)||
|Chief of Defence Staff Commendation|
|Deputy Minister Award||
|Canadian federal election, 2015: Vancouver South|
|New Democratic||Amandeep Nijjar||6,230||13.97||-7.10||$63,954.79|
|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||–|
|Liberal gain from Conservative||Swing||+11.80|
|Source: Elections Canada|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Harjit Sajjan.|
|29th Ministry – Cabinet of Justin Trudeau|
|Cabinet post (1)|
|Jason Kenney||Minister of National Defence