Why Harjit Sajjan may not be retained as Canada’s defence minister
While minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan easily retained his seat in the House of Commons in the Federal elections in Canada, holding on to that prime portfolio may prove to be a challenge amid calls for his removal due to sexual misconduct crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces under his watch.
Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese reported that Sajjan “isn’t expected back at National Defence” and has been “largely seen as ineffective and, in the eyes of some critics, incompetent.”
Meanwhile, the outlet Global News quoted Steve Saideman, director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network, describing Sajjan’s tenure as a “disaster.” He added, “If this government were to keep Sajjan on, it would send a strong message that they don’t care about women in the military.”
National Post columnist Sabrina Maddeaux voiced the same view, as she wrote, “If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is at all serious about changing the military’s toxic culture, when he names his new cabinet in October, there must be a new defence minister.”
She added that Sajjan had “lost all credibility when it comes to the institution’s sexual misconduct crisis.”
Former New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair echoed that sentiment in the outlet CTV, “Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has been an abject failure in dealing with the issue of sexual misconduct in the military. Women who have courageously come forward have felt betrayed.”
The Canadian Press reported recently that the calls for his ouster from the ministry will be very difficult for Trudeau to ignore.
The controversy started this year as then Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance resigned in January amid allegations of impropriety of a sexual nature. Sajjan has come under severe criticism in this matter after the military ombudsman of the time revealed that the Defence Minister was informed about Vance’s alleged “improper conduct” with a subordinate in 2018. In May, an advisor to Trudeau testified before the House of Commons Defence Committee that she was aware of the allegations. There were accusations that Sajjan did not act against Vance due to their long relationship, as they had both served together in Afghanistan. Vance’s successor Admiral Art McDonald stepped aside less than a month-and-a-half into his term as he also faces an investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service. More such incidents have come to light since.
Sajjan was censured by the House of Commons in a vote in June this year. He defended himself, saying, “We take all allegations very seriously, as I did and brought the immediate information to the appropriate officials.” Trudeau also supported him at the time saying Sajjan enjoyed his confidence.
Sajjan was re-elected from Vancouver South with 49.4 per cent of the vote and a 10,000 margin over his closest opponent. Responding to media after his victory, he had said that he will serve in whatever role is assigned to him by Trudeau.