'Stolen valour': Sajjan faces calls to resign in wake of Afghanistan battle claim
Trudeau says Sajjan has his 'full confidence,' despite minister's exaggeration of role in battling Taliban
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Harjit Sajjan has his "full confidence" amid a growing controversy over the defence minister's exaggerated claim he was the "architect" of a major assault on the Taliban in 2006.
Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose accused Sajjan of "stolen valour" for taking credit for the actions of another, and called on Trudeau to fire him for dishonouring himself and the military.
"What he did was wrong, and now he has lost the confidence of our men and women in uniform, and they need to have confidence in their leaders, especially when they're putting their lives on the line," she said. "So will the prime minister remove the minister of defence?"
But Trudeau said Sajjan has served his country in a number of ways, as a police officer, a soldier and now as a cabinet minister. He made a mistake, apologized and took responsibility for it, the prime minister said.
"When we make a mistake, Canadians expect us to apologize and to acknowledge that mistake. That's what we did and that's why the minister of defence continues to have my full confidence," Trudeau told the House.
Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of the defence staff, also responded to the remarks Monday.
"Minister Sajjan has issued an unequivocal apology for statements related to the nature of his involvement in Operation Medusa and, as far as I'm concerned, the matter is closed," he said.
Sajjan briefly met with reporters before entering the House of Commons, again apologizing and saying he was "not here to make excuses."
"I'm owning it. I'm learning from it and I'll be a better person for it," he said.
He reiterated his apology in the House.
- Conflicting accounts of Sajjan's battle role
- ANALYSIS: What Sajjan really did in Operation Medusa
- Sajjan expresses 'regret' for battle description
But NDP Leader Tom Mulcair accused Sajjan of telling "a whopper" and said that simply saying sorry isn't enough.
"That is not something you apologize for, it's something that you have to step down for," he said.
MPs are back in Ottawa after a two-week break, and the controversy over Sajjan overstating his role in Operation Medusa during an April 18 address in New Delhi dominated the daily question period, with some MPs hollering "shame!" and "disgusting!"
The Conservatives said it is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of misleading the public
Conservative defence critic James Bezan has also disputed claims by Sajjan that the Iraqis were accepting of Canada's decision to withdraw its CF-18 jet fighters from combat against ISIS. He said the minister also made misleading statements about the air force's capability gap and who was responsible for cutting danger pay for soldiers in Kuwait.
Bezan said Sajjan has become a "laughingstock" and that his reputation has been damaged beyond repair.
"Canadians don't believe him. The military doesn't trust him. And I can tell you, our allies aren't going to take him seriously," he said in the House of Commons.
Served as liaison officer
Former soldiers with direct knowledge of Sajjan's role in Afghanistan told CBC News that he served as a liaison officer with local Afghan leadership, and provided critical intelligence and insight that helped shape the battle, but that he did not plan the September 2006 operation west of Kandahar City.
Sajjan served on one tour to Bosnia and three deployments to Afghanistan as a reservist.
On the weekend, Sajjan took to social media to state he had made a "mistake" in how he described his role, retracted the statement and apologized.
"I am truly sorry," he said in a Facebook post Saturday. "While I am proud of the role I played during my deployments to Afghanistan, my comments were in no way intended to diminish the roles of my former superiors and fellow soldiers. To them I offer my sincere apologies."
'Architect' claim made earlier
Sajjan's claim in India to be an "architect" of the Afghan campaign was not the first time he characterized his role in that way.
On a regional B.C. podcast in July 2015, he said Gen. Vance considered him to be a central figure.
"If I could quote him, he said I was the architect of Operation Medusa, one of the biggest operations since the Korean War that Canada has led," Sajjan said at the time, when he was running as a Liberal candidate.
With files from Kristen Everson