‘I’M TRULY SORRY’:

Trudeau stands by his de­fence min­is­ter amid charges of ‘stolen val­our’ from Op­po­si­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - LEE BERTHIAUME

OT­TAWA — Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and his em­bat­tled de­fence min­is­ter en­dured a with­er­ing ques­tion-pe­riod of­fen­sive Mon­day as op­po­si­tion MPs accused Har­jit Sa­j­jan of “stolen val­our” for over­stat­ing his role in plan­ning a 2006 battle in Afghanistan.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties trained their sights squarely on Sa­j­jan, who apol­o­gized again in the House of Com­mons for hav­ing de­scribed him­self as the ar­chi­tect of Op­er­a­tion Me­dusa, one of the blood­i­est and most piv­otal bat­tles of the Afghan war.

In­terim Con­ser­va­tive leader Rona Am­brose went so far as to ac­cuse Sa­j­jan of steal­ing credit for the ac­tions of oth­ers — a car­di­nal sin in mil­i­tary cir­cles.

“How much more does the prime min­is­ter need to hear be­fore he un­der­stands why our men and women in uni­form have lost con­fi­dence in the min­is­ter,” Am­brose said.

“Peo­ple in the mil­i­tary have a name for what he did: it’s called ‘stolen val­our,’ when some­one takes credit for the brave ac­tions of an­other.”

Trudeau, how­ever, would not be moved from his talk­ing points.

“The min­is­ter made a mis­take,” the prime min­is­ter said re­peat­edly. “He ac­knowl­edged his re­spon­si­bil­ity and apol­o­gized for it; that’s what Cana­di­ans ex­pect when one makes a mis­take.”

Trudeau went on to in­sist that Sa­j­jan had served his coun­try with dis­tinc­tion in a num­ber of ca­pac­i­ties, in­clud­ing as a po­lice of­fi­cer and as a sol­dier. As a min­is­ter, he added, “he has my full con­fi­dence.”

Sa­j­jan, for his part, later rose and re­peated his apol­ogy.

“I would like to apol­o­gize for my mis­take in de­scrib­ing my role, and re­tract that state­ment, and I’m truly sorry for it,” Sa­j­jan said.

“I in no way in­tended to di­min­ish the great work that our men and women in the Cana­dian Armed Forces have done ... and I’m truly sorry for it.”

What Sa­j­jan didn’t do is ex­plain his “mis­take,” which Am­brose noted he’d made twice — once in 2015 and again two weeks ago. As such, his apol­ogy did lit­tle to as­suage the op­po­si­tion, with both the Con­ser­va­tives and NDP call­ing on Trudeau to sack him.

“There’s no ques­tion that Min­is­ter Sa­j­jan is go­ing to have to re­sign,” NDP Leader Tom Mul­cair said af­ter ques­tion pe­riod.

“It’s not an er­ror when you keep re­peat­ing the same lie. He’s lost all cred­i­bil­ity with the mil­i­tary. And frankly, the be­hav­iour today in the House — re­fus­ing to an­swer — is what con­vinces us that there’s no pos­si­ble way for him to stay.”

In speech in Delhi on April 18, Sa­j­jan told the In­dian think tank Ob­server Re­search Foun­da­tion that he had been the “ar­chi­tect” of Op­er­a­tion Me­dusa, which the min­is­ter has since ac­knowl­edged was wrong.

“On my first de­ploy­ment to Kan­da­har in 2006, I was kind of thrown in an un­fore­seen sit­u­a­tion and be­came the ar­chi­tect of an op­er­a­tion called Op­er­a­tion Me­dusa, where we re­moved about 1,500 fight­ers, Tal­iban fight­ers, off the bat­tle­field,” Sa­j­jan said in his speech.

Sa­j­jan was a ma­jor with the Cana­dian Forces in Afghanistan dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Me­dusa, and re­ceived a spe­cial com­men­da­tion for “his un­der­stand­ing of coun­terin­sur­gency tac­tics.”

But the min­is­ter him­self has ac­knowl­edged that then-ma­jor-gen­eral David Fraser and his com­mand team were re­spon­si­ble for the op­er­a­tion’s suc­cess, which saw hun­dreds of Tal­iban fight­ers killed or cap­tured over a two-week pe­riod. Twelve Cana­di­ans were also killed in the fight­ing.

It was the sec­ond time Sa­j­jan claimed to have been the “ar­chi­tect” of Op­er­a­tion Me­dusa, the first be­ing dur­ing an ap­pear­ance on a pod­cast when he was run­ning as a Lib­eral can­di­date in July 2015.

“In 2006, Gen. ( Jonathan) Vance, who is go­ing to be the chief of de­fence staff, if I could quote him, he said that I was the ar­chi­tect of Op­er­a­tion Me­dusa,” Sa­j­jan told host Stu­art McNish.

Dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Fri­day about mil­i­tary ef­forts to stamp out sex­ual mis­con­duct, Vance re­fused to dis­cuss Sa­j­jan’s com­ments.

ADRIAN WYLD, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan was re­peat­edly heck­led on Mon­day in the House.

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