COMMENTARY: Operation Medusa wouldn’t have happened without Minister Sajjan

Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan during a ceremony at the All India War Memorial at the India Gate in New Delhi, India on April 18, 2017.
Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan during a ceremony at the All India War Memorial at the India Gate in New Delhi, India on April 18, 2017. EPA/RAJAT GUPTA

A lot has been said about our Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan, over the course of the last week or so. Most of it has not been very good, and almost all of the commentary has hinged on his use of the word “architect.” Last month, while in New Delhi, Minister Sajjan made remarks to the Observer Researcher Foundation in India wherein he referred to himself as the architect of Operation Medusa: “On my first deployment to Kandahar in 2006, I was kind of thrown into an unforeseen situation, and I became the architect of an operation called Operation Medusa, where we removed about 1,500 Taliban fighters off the battlefield.”

The minister has apologized more than once for having used the word “architect,” although critics are right to point out that he did not provide any substantive reason for why he used the term to begin with. As far as ministerial scandals go, it’s not exactly scintillating stuff, but that hasn’t deterred the opposition from trying to make this out to be an indignity worthy of immediate resignation.

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READ MORE: PM Trudeau stands firm supporting Defence Minister Sajjan

The Conservatives continue to claim that they’re hearing from hundreds in the military community, all of whom are extremely upset. It’s not surprising that members of the military would be annoyed and even disappointed in Minister Sajjan talking about his role with any specifications at all, let alone making comments in which he purportedly exaggerated his role. But in speaking to a senior retired British military officer, Col. Christopher Vernon, a very different picture of Sajjan was painted from what we’ve been hearing from the opposition and being reported in the media. Col. Vernon served as chief of staff of the Canadian-led headquarters in Kandahar, he has no stake in Canadian politics, no reason to overstate Minister Sajjan’s role during Operation Medusa, and he joined us on The Morning Show last week.

LISTEN:  Col. Christopher Vernon on Harjit Sajjan and Operation Medusa

I bluntly asked the colonel if Minister Sajjan had played an integral role during Operation Medusa, and his response was that Sajjan’s role was “more than integral.” Col. Vernon went on to state, “I know the word ‘architect’ been used and the minister has apologized for that, but he was a critical member of the planning and design team. He worked hand in glove with the Australian lieutenant colonel who was the lead planner. It was quite a small discrete group because we didn’t want it too wide in the early stages. And a critical part of it was played by Major Sajjan.”

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Some of the more hyperbolic accusations levelled at Minister Sajjan by Conservative members, including interim leader Rona Ambrose, is that in stating his role as the architect, Sajjan had committed an act of “stolen valour.” Stolen valour is a serious accusation to level at someone who has served multiple tours for their country. It’s an allegation that should be below even the most partisan of partisans because it necessarily implies that the commendations Minister Sajjan has earned were obtained fraudulently. This is obviously not the case, as Sajjan’s chief error wasn’t that he was claiming to have earned something that he didn’t but that he simply used the wrong word when describing his role during Operation Medusa.

READ MORE: Tories accuse Harjit Sajjan of ‘stolen valour’

When I asked Col. Vernon what he made of the Opposition’s claim against Sajjan having committed stolen valour, the colonel was quick to dismiss the notion, and went on to reiterate the pivotal role played by Minister Sajjan, once again stating that Operation Medusa would not have happened without Sajjan’s work: “You know, without Major Sajjan’s input as a critical player, major player, a pivotal player I’d say, Medusa wouldn’t have happened. We wouldn’t have the intelligence and the tribal picture to put the thing together.”

So here we have a high-ranking officer who was actually involved in the planning and execution of Operation Medusa acknowledging just how important Minister Sajjan’s role was in the success of the operation. But this is politics, and like sharks drawn to hemoglobin, the opposition benches have their olfactory systems in overdrive.

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Conservative Defence critic James Bezan even went so far as to table a motion in the House of Commons, which like all motions are ultimately meaningless and non-binding, expressing a loss of confidence in Sajjan. If you thought this motion goes against our system of responsible government, and that individual ministers don’t actually need the confidence of the House of Commons, simply the confidence of the Prime Minister, you would be right! Add in the fact that the Liberals have a majority in the House; the vote is entirely symbolic and merely represents more drama in our political theatre.

READ MORE: Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to face symbolic confidence motion in House of Commons

Was the Minister the architect of the operation? No, he wasn’t. It was a poor choice of words, and the Minister himself has asserted as much and has unreservedly apologized. However, it’s worth pointing out that I am literally paid to talk into a microphone for three and a half hours a day, and even I am at a loss for the appropriate word to be used for Minister Sajjan’s role. If anyone knows the word for “the operation would not have happened without him”, and “he was more than integral” then please do tell.

Supriya Dwivedi is host of The Morning Show on Toronto’s Talk Radio AM640 and a columnist for Global News.