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I am no ‘badass’: Canada’s newly-appointed Sikh defence minister

Canada’s newly-appointed defence minister Harjit Sajjan has said he is not a “badass” and is quite a softie despite his military background.

world Updated: Nov 13, 2015 23:10 IST
Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan, left, and chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance attend the Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015.(Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

Canada’s newly-appointed defence minister Harjit Sajjan has said he is not a “badass” and is quite a softie despite his military background. 45-year-old Sajjan, who immigrated to Canada from India when he was a young boy, said the country must contribute to the defeat of the Islamic State but rejected the idea that Canadians should be afraid of the jihadist organisation.

“ISIS is a threat, no doubt about that. Should we fear it? No. The Canadian population should have full confidence in all the security services to keep us safe,” he told CBC News. Sajjan is a decorated military veteran who served three tours of duty for the forces in Afghanistan, and one in Bosnia, and worked as a detective in the Vancouver Police Service.

Sajjan leapfrogged his former mentor, retired general Andrew Leslie, to get the nod as defence minister in Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet. And his appointment to the Cabinet went viral on social media — with a picture from his days in Afghanistan tweeted with the line “Canada’s new minister of defence is ‘badass.’”

Asked what he thinks of being dubbed as a “badass”, Sajjan said, “I actually chuckled. I was really shocked at the interest in me, because when I got the job I was like, ‘(This is) a big responsibility, I can’t mess this up.’” As Canada’s first Sikh in the role, he said “if my position here gives anybody hope of where you might be, and your potential, I’m happy that it does that.” “But in terms of ‘badass?’ Uh, no. I have done a lot of interesting things in the Vancouver police and in the military, where I would say that I worked with some very professional soldiers, police officers. But my kids, my little daughter, can say something to me and almost put me to tears,” he said.

Sajjan has also allegedly faced racist remarks by a soldier on social media, prompting the Canadian Armed Forces to launch a probe. The offensive post, which was written in French, was quickly removed. On the fight against IS, Sajjan said the government is in discussions over what role Canada will take in the fight against the terror group but that there was no date yet for withdrawing Canada’s fighter jets from the US-led coalition in Syria and Iraq.

Asked whether the Canadian flights might continue to the end of the current commitment in March 2016, Sajjan said Canada is in discussions with its allies. Sajjan said that in confronting IS, there is more that can be done. “We need to get better as an international coalition... better at looking at the threats early on, to making sure that we identify them early so they don’t balloon into these big threats,” he said.

First Published: Nov 13, 2015 23:05 IST