Harjit Sajjan says he ‘faced a lot of racism’ while in Canadian military

Click to play video: 'One-on-one with defence minister Harjit Sajjan'
One-on-one with defence minister Harjit Sajjan
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan sits down with Global News, revealing what’s next for the defence policy review and the mission in Iraq. Vassy Kapelos reports – Dec 15, 2016

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, the first Sikh-Canadian to command a Canadian army regiment, said he never experienced racism before joining the military.

“I finally found out what racism was when I joined the military,” Sajjan told Global News in a one-on-one interview.

The military, embroiled in ongoing allegations of pervasive sexual assault and misconduct, is reviewing how to address assault and violence among his ranks.

READ MORE: Military investigating soldier’s alleged racist social media post about defence minister

But there are other behaviours, such as racism, the Armed Forces needs to eliminate, said Sajjan, who joined in 1989.

“This is one thing we need to root out, whether it’s racial discrimination or whether it’s sexual assault and how women are treated.”

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READ MORE: Women in military 4 times more likely than men to be attacked, report finds

When Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance took over as the country’s top soldier, the military was already awash in allegations of sexual assault and discrimination. He has made it a priority of his to get a scope of the problem and put an end to the behaviour.

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“I’m very proud of the work that Gen. Vance has done,” Sajjan said.

“A lot of work has been done, but [there’s] a lot of work that we still need to do as well. We will not relent.”

Adjusting Canada’s mission in Iraq

Canadian troops have played a part in the ongoing fight for Mosul – the so-called Islamic State’s last major bastion in Iraq – that started two months ago.

Defeating the ISIS in that city is seen as vital to destroying the “caliphate” declared by the group’s leader.

READ MORE: ISIS leader confident despite Mosul offensive, urges attack on Turkey

But commanders have said the battle could take months.

Sajjan didn’t say how much longer he thinks the fight might last, but that Canada has played an integral role.

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“The Mosul campaign would not have been possible if we had not put the resources in to help shape the environment for this,” he said of the nine-member coalition working on the mission in Iraq.

When the Liberals won the 2015 election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau withdrew Canada’s fighter aircraft the previous Conservative government had deployed to join coalition airstrikes.

Canada is now in an “advise and assist” role, providing combat training to Iraqi Security forces.

READ MORE: 1,000 Islamic State fighters killed in Mosul, Iraqi forces say

Last month, National Defence deployed a field hospital to support American and French troops on the front lines in the Mosul takeover.

Sajjan has said he doesn’t want Canada’s place in Iraq to be “another Libya.” Canada was among the coalition that intervened in Libya in 2011 to bring down leader Muammar Gaddafi, citing humanitarian concerns.

Once Gaddafi was killed in Oct. 2011, the Western nations left and, as the country continues to reel from the ousting, stand accused of deserting and abandoning Libyans.

In regard to Iraq though, Sajjan won’t commit to keeping troops there after Mosul is won.

“After Mosul is taken, we have to look at what the political situation is, what are the needs,” the minister said. “When we put our troops somewhere, it has to have meaningful contributions. It can’t be simply for the sake of being there.”

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With a file from Reuters

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