Here’s why opposition MPs are calling Harjit Sajjan a liar
It started with National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s proclamation that he engineered the Canadian-led NATO offensive against the Taliban during the Afghan war – the largest such operation in decades.
Sajjan has since retracted that statement and apologized.
But the opposition Conservatives and NDP are saying the minister’s “lie” is just the latest in a series, and they have been using much of their time in the House of Commons to build a narrative and paint a picture of Sajjan as a serial deceiver.
WATCH: Conservatives accused Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan of “stolen valour” and demanded he step down
Asked Wednesday to respond to the assertion, Sajjan skirted the question, saying his responsibility is to the military, not the opposition.
“My number one responsibility is making sure the Canadian Armed Forces has all the right resources, the funding and the plan to carry out their mission,” he told reporters.
“When it comes to trusting what we do, we do it through our actions.”
Here are the past events opposition MPs are pointing toward to make their case, including the latest.
WATCH: Conservatives call for Sajjan to resign amid new claims he misled military
His role in Afghanistan
“On at least two occasions, [he] misled Canadians about the role he played in Afghanistan, fabricating that he was the architect of the largest battle Canadians fought in, but he was not,” interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said Tuesday.
The most recent instance of Sajjan, a veteran of three tours in Afghanistan, overstating his role in the 2006 Operation Medusa was during a speech two weeks ago in New Dehli. The other was while campaigning for the 2015 general election.
WATCH: Ambrose questions Liberals’ confidence in Sajjan following Medusa scandal
Over the past several days, Sajjan has apologized for his “mistake in describing” his role and retracted it, extending his apology to the Armed Forces.
Sajjan received praise for the role he played in Operation Medusa – the intelligence he collected is said to have played a key role in planning the battle – and was on the front during the offensive. But he has not been singled out as “the architect,” or anything approximating that term, of the attack.
What he knows about the Afghan detainee scandal
Former NDP MP Craig Scott, who lost his seat in the 2015 election, petitioned the Liberal government to hold an inquiry into allegations the Canadian army transferred suspected Taliban prisoners to Afghan authorities while aware those prisoners could then likely be tortured.
While in opposition, the Liberals supported calls for an inquiry into the then-Conservative government’s policy – but when the ball was in the Liberal government’s court, they backed down.
Specifically, Sajjan, whose tours overlapped with the timeframe of some of the allegations, announced the government’s refusal to hold an inquiry.
The federal ethics watchdog was asked to weigh in on whether Sajjan should have had any part in making the call on proceeding with an inquiry. After looking at the information in front of her and interviewing the minister, however, the commissioner decided to not investigate the matter.
WATCH: Justin Trudeau firmly supports Sajjan’s apology regarding role in Medusa
According to a letter the commissioner sent to the minister, Sajjan had told her he was never involved in transferring Afghan detainees, nor did he have any knowledge on the matter.
In light of Sajjan’s exaggeration of his part in Operation Medusa, however, the NDP is now calling on the commissioner to take another look.
“What the ethics commissioner said was that the defence minister told her he played absolutely no role [in the detainee scandal],” NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said during Question Period this week.
“The problem is that he then went on to claim to be an architect, and senior military officials described him as playing a key intelligence role.”
Sajjan vs. others on Canadian jets
“The minister of national defence said that our allies were OK with pulling our jets out of the fight against ISIS, and that was not true,” Ambrose recalled Monday. “He said our air force does not have enough planes to do its job, but the air force commander said that was not true.”
During the 2015 election campaign, Justin Trudeau pledged to withdraw Canada’s six CF-18 fighter jets from the U.S.-led coalition attacking targets in Iraq and Syria. Early into his tenure as defence minister, Sajjan told Canadians the allies understood Canada’s position and plan.
Last month, however, documents obtained by Conservative Party researchers and given to CBC.ca revealed the Iraqi defence minister pushed for the Liberal government to reconsider its decision to withdraw the CF-18s from combat.
Meanwhile, Sajjan was saying last year that the country doesn’t have enough fighter jets to meet all of its obligations – a suggestion thrown into question once the Air Force commander weighed in.
The Air Force has standing commitments with Norad and NATO to have a set number of planes ready to go at all times.
The force also needs a specific number of planes for training — to say nothing of the fact they all need to be ready to deploy whenever called upon. Canada would not be able to meet each of those requirements simultaneously if required, Sajjan said, describing the apparent shortfall as a “capability gap.”
WATCH: Harjit Sajjan formally apologizes, retracts statement on role in Afghanistan
Considering the Air Force commander had recently said he was “comfortable” with his fleet of CF-18s, the minister’s statement incited a lot of head scratching.
Months later, the commander told a Senate committee the Liberals had changed the number of jets he was required to have ready at any given time shortly after he’d offered that assessment of the fleet.
As a result of the change, the number of CF-18s he had on hand became insufficient.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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