The Honourable Harjit Singh Sajjan PC OMM MSM CD MP, (born September 6, 1970) was first elected Member of Parliament for Vancouver South in 2015 and served as Minister of National Defence from 2015 to 2021.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 riding of Vancouver South in the House of Commons, taking office as member of Parliament 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, and was also the first Sikh Canadian to command a Canadian Army reserve regiment.He is a former detective with the Vancouver Police Department, a former Lieutenant Colonel with the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own), and a long-time advocate for youth education and mentorship programs. .
Early and personal life
Sajjan was born on September 6, 1970 into a Saini Sikh family in Bombeli, a village in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab, India. His 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. 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 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 Lower Mainland during the summer where S Harjit Singh grew up in South Vancouver. Sajjan was baptized as a Sikh when he was a teenager Sajjan got married to Kuljit Kaur, a family physician in 1996, and they have a son and a daughter, Arjun and Jeevut.
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. 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 investigation. As a member of the British Columbia Regiment, he participated in four operational deployments – one to Bosnia and three to Afghanistan.
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. 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.
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.
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). 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, the Order of Military Merit award, and served as 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 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. Sajjan was appointed minister of national defence in the federal Cabinet, headed by Justin Trudeau, on November 4, 2015. He was also briefly acting minister of veterans affairs in February 2019 following the resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould, until the appointment of Lawrence MacAulay to the portfolio.
His alleged links with the Khalistan movement have caused diplomatic friction with Punjab’s former chief minister, Amarinder Singh. 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.”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.
Controversy over role in Operation Medusa
In July 2015 and April 2017 in a 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. 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. 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.
One of the anonymous officers cited in the National Post, , 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”.
Sajjan issued apologies to the 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 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 was moved from minister of defence to minister of international development in an October 2021 cabinet reshuffle.
Honours and decorations
Sajjan has received the following honours and decorations during and after his military career.
Ribbon Description Notes
Order of Military Merit (OMM)
• Appointed Officer (OMM) on 17 October 2012
Meritorious Service Medal (MSM)
• Awarded August 22, 2012 • Military Division
South-West Asia Service Medal
• With Clasp “AFGHANISTAN”
General Campaign Star
• South West Asia Ribbon
• 2 Rotation Bars
Mentioned in dispatches
• Awarded June 4, 2008
NATO Medal for the former Yugoslavia • with FORMER YUGOSLAVIA clasp
Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal
Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal
• Decoration awarded in 2002 • Canadian version
Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal
• Decoration awarded in 2012 • Canadian version
Canadian Forces’ Decoration (CD)
• with one Clasp for 22 years of services
• From the Secretary of Defense of the United States of America
Chief of Defence Staff Commendation
Deputy Minister Award • From the Department of National Defence
Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards
• 2016 recipient