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Sikh Vancouver South Liberal candidate Harjit Singh Sajjan says his goal is to serve Canada

Harjit Singh Sajjan stopped keeping track of the number of near-death experiences during the first of three tours of Afghanistan between 2006 and 2011.

chandigarh Updated: Dec 14, 2014 20:19 IST

Harjit Singh Sajjan stopped keeping track of the number of near-death experiences during the first of three tours of Afghanistan between 2006 and 2011.

So the B.C. Liberal candidate and former military officer doesn’t take too kindly to suggestions he’s got any agenda other than to serve Canada, despite his candidacy being backed by prominent Sikh leaders connected to the World Sikh Organization of Canada, like Prem Vinning and Sajjan’s father.

The WSO, long associated with the movement for the creation of an independent Sikh state in India called Khalistan, is at the centre of a controversy over Liberal nominations for the 2015 federal election.

“I find it rather peculiar” to be peppered with questions by the media about Sikh politics in India, he said. “Is it because I wear a turban?”

Sajjan is being acclaimed in the riding of Vancouver South Friday, setting off a protest among those Liberals who favoured a prominent Punjabi-Canadian businessman, Barjinder Singh Dhahan.

Sajjan’s opponents have said they’re tearing up their membership cards.

“This Liberal party has been hijacked by the WSO,” said Rajinder Singh Bhela, a longtime Liberal and one-time general secretary of the Ross Street Temple.

The WSO is playing a key role in nominations not only in B.C. but in other provinces, especially Ontario, and that involvement will backfire by alienating more moderate Punjabi-Canadians, Bhela said.

The WSO describes itself as a non-partisan organization that does not back political candidates.

Trudeau maintained this week that all riding nomination races have remained open, even though Dhahan was convinced to withdraw his candidacy after signing up a reported 4,000 new memberships.

Sajjan refused to comment directly on whether he felt he won an open nomination, saying: “I followed the process.”

Sajjan said he isn’t a member of the WSO and doesn’t want to be identified with a separatist movement in a foreign country.

“I don’t support the breakup of any country,” said Sajjan, who arrived in Canada at age five. “I’m a Canadian. I want to focus on Canadian issues.”

Asked several times about his candidacy’s backing by Prem Vinning and his own father, Kundan Singh Sajjan, both former senior WSO officials, he stressed his lack of involvement in the WSO and recounted the dozens of times he came close to dying during three deployments in Afghanistan.

He also said his father, a policeman in India, is a peaceful and respected man whose focus is on human rights.

He said he grew up in Canada feeling the need to “prove myself as a Canadian,” and only spoke up Tuesday about his military record as a result of a critical report about his candidacy on CBC.

He served as a reservist with the Canadian peacekeeping forces in Bosnia in 1996. In 1999, he joined the Vancouver police. Sajjan, a reserve lieutenant-colonel, was named commander of the B.C. Regiment in 2012.

During the police hiring process, he said, he had intensive interviews, reference checks and a polygraph test to ensure he did not have sympathies for the Sikh extremists in Canada linked to the 1985 Air India terrorist bombing.

He served in Afghanistan in 2006, playing a key intelligence advisory role to Brig.-Gen David Fraser in the successful Operation Medusa offensive against the Taliban that year.

He served again in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2011, and he was invited to California to share his intelligence-gathering techniques with U.S. special forces.

First Published: Dec 14, 2014 20:17 IST