Ottawa– Canadian opposition has launched an all-out attack on Indian-origin Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan calling upon him to resign or be fired for exaggerating his military record in Afghanistan, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was standing by his minister.
In speech in New Delhi last month, Sajjan told the Indian think tank Observer Research Foundation that he had been the “architect” of Operation Medusa against Taliban — a statement which the minister has since retracted.
Operation Medusa was Canada’s largest military operation since the 1950s, one of the bloodiest and most pivotal battles of the Afghan war. Hundreds of Taliban fighters were killed or captured over a two-week period during the 2006 offensive.
Twelve Canadians were also killed in the fighting.
Sajjan was a Major with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan during Operation Medusa, and received a special commendation.
“On my first deployment to Kandahar in 2006, I was kind of thrown in an unforeseen situation and became the architect of an operation… where we removed about 1,500 Taliban fighters,” Sajjan had said in a speech.
Trudeau and Sajjan endured a withering question-period offensive on Monday as opposition MPs accused the Defence Minister of “stolen valour” for overstating his role in planning Operation Medusa in Afghanistan, the Toronto Star reported.
Opposition parties trained their sights squarely on Sajjan, who apologised again in the House of Commons. He had also apologised on the social media two days earlier for the claim.
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose called it a “cardinal sin” in the military circles for stealing valour of others.
“How much more does the Prime Minister need to hear before he understands why our men and women in uniform have lost confidence in the Minister,” Ambrose said.
Trudeau, however, would not be moved from his talking points.
“The minister made a mistake,” the Prime Minister said repeatedly.
“He acknowledged his responsibility and apologised for it; that’s what Canadians expect when one makes a mistake,” the Toronto Sun reported the Prime Minister as having said.
As a minister, Trudeau added, “He has my full confidence.”
Sajjan, for his part, later rose and repeated his apology.
What Sajjan didn’t do is explain his “mistake” which Ambrose noted he’d made twice — once in 2015 and again two weeks ago during his India visit.
As such, his apology did little to assuage the opposition, with both the Conservatives and the Democratics calling on Trudeau to sack him.
National Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Thomas Mulcair joined the calls for Sajjan’s resignation or firing. Mulcair slammed Sajjan for not making a “mistake” but for telling “a whopper”.
“A whopper is not something you apologise for, it’s something you step down for.”
Sajjan was repeatedly heckled.
The minister was born in Bombeli village in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district and had migrated to Canada in 1976 with his family. He is the first Sikh to serve as the Defence Minister of any other nation.