The Ministers: Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan never considered himself a ‘badass’

Global News correspondents are sitting down with the new cabinet ministers who will shape policy in this country, to find out where they came from and where they want to take this country. Global National will air their stories in a new series called “The Ministers”.

VANCOUVER — Harjit Sajjan is a rookie politician and didn’t expect to be tapped for such a high portfolio as National Defence.

“It was a surprise and it was an honour,” he said of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau choosing him for the post.

But, his resume makes him more than qualified for the job. In fact, many have called the 45-year-old the “badass” defence minister.

“I’ve never considered myself a badass,” he said in an interview with Global News. “I’ve done some very challenging things and if people equate that to the image… I’ve been in some challenging times and that’s all I can say to that, to be honest.”

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After 11 years fighting gangs with the Vancouver Police Department, he became a reservist in the military and rose up the ranks to become a lieutenant colonel.

He caught the attention of his commanders while serving in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

“Surprisingly… when I went to Afghanistan, I realized that my experience as a detective in gangs was going to be critical,” he said. “My mindset as a detective, actually, that’s how I was able to figure out what was going on.”

He describes being able to just knock on a door here, as a police officer, but having to “fight your way into a village to be able to have a meeting with somebody” in Afghanistan.

And, it was his experience fighting gangs and gang violence that helped with his work during the mission in Afghanistan — something he earned much praise for.

“We showed results. And not just me. I had a wonderful team to that I was able to work with and we were able to do things and do some things in some very challenging times.”

Now, it’s not just his team of soldiers relying on him; it’s the entire Canadian military.

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“Everybody who serves in uniform serves Canada,” he said. “And me, as minister of National Defence, my job is to serve them.”

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Today, the defence minister is on the defensive, about the mission against the so-called Islamic State and his government’s plan to pull Canadian fighter jets out of bombing missions over Syria and Iraq.

“If we boil the fight down to airstrikes, we are getting it wrong,” Sajjan tells Global News. “It’s an important piece to [the mission] and our air force has done some phenomenal work on it, but we need to look at the wider picture.”
Extended interview with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan

Airstrikes, he explained, are more effective with proper training for forces on the ground. That’s where the Trudeau government says its turning its focus, adding to the approximately 70 special forces on the ground training local fighters in Iraq.

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“The enemy does evolve and if we don’t evolve with it, not just in that one location, but we have to figures out where those tentacles of [IS] are reaching… another issue is going to be popping up,” he said.

“I want to make sure we do this right.”

READ MORE: CF-18s useless without on-the-ground training: Harjit Sajjan

Earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said it would be a matter of weeks, not months, before the six CF-18s come home from the Middle East.

The Liberals intend to put more focus on training local fighters — adding to the already 70 special forces on the ground in Iraq. but, there’s no clear timeline of when more special forces would put their boots on the ground in the Middle East.

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