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Friday, November 6, 2015

Harjit Sajjan: New Minister of Defence

On Wednesday, Canada's new Defence Minister was announced. For the first time since Gordon O'Connor, the Defence Minister is a former member of the Canadian Forces - to some a great thing, while to others it could be problematic.

I think the new Defence Minister will usher in a new era for the CAF.

Meet Harjit Sajjan, the first Sikh Member of the Canadian Forces, who challenged the dress code book, to allow him to wear his turban, and keep his facial hair. Sajjan, went on to become the first Sikh Commander of a CAF Unit when he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Army Reserve.

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Sajjan is a former police officer. He served as an office and detective for 11 years in the Vancouver area before joining the Army Reserve.  

During his time with the CAF he was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina and served three separate deployments to Kandahar, Afghanistan. He received numerous recognition for his service, including the Meritorious Service Medal for reducing the Taliban’s influence in Kandahar Province. 

Sajjan was asked directly by former CAF Commander in Afghanistan Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Andrew Leslie to deploy to Afghanistan where he became an invaluable asset in the fight against the Taliban. Due to his Indian heritage, and his religion, many of the locals trusted Sajjan, and he was instrumental in gaining intelligence on Taliban locations. 

Sajjan's final deployment to Afghanistan came at the request of the United States. They had heard about his success with the locals, and Sajjan accepted a position as a Special Adviser to the American General in Kandahar. U.S sources say Sajjan is directly responsible for helping locate and in some cases eliminate close to 1,500 Taliban fighters. 

Cabinet position: Defence

Degree of difficulty: High

First challenge: Ending Canada’s combat mission in Iraq and Syria.

After that: The Minister will have to help oversee the process of withdrawing Canada from the U.S.-led F-35 stealth fighter jet program. That will also require the Canadian Forces and DND moving forward on a new project to purchase a replacement aircraft for the air force’s CF-18 fighter jets.

Also on the agenda: Dealing with the issue of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces and the implementation of the report by Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, since retired, and now a Liberal MP for Orleans. That report calls for cutting red tape at National Defence headquarters in Ottawa, finding savings that can be directed to key military roles and moving as many as 3,000 staff to jobs that support front-line operations.