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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Trudeau’s minister Harjit Sajjan ordered military to rescue Afghan Sikhs after Taliban takeover of Kabul: Report


In potential embarrassment for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, political leaders have demanded parliamentary hearings into a media report that then-defence minister Harjit Sajjan, a known Khalistani supporter, directed the Canadian military to mount a rescue operation for Afghan Sikhs after the fall of Kabul in 2021, a media report said.

According to a Globe and Mail report, Sajjan, who is close to Trudeau, has defended his role in instructing Canadian special forces to rescue about 225 Afghan Sikhs in 2021. Sajjan, now Emergency Preparedness Minister, is Liberal MP for Vancouver South.

Three military sources told The Globe that the Sajjan’s orders took resources away from evacuating Canadian citizens and Afghans linked to Canada out of Kabul.

Defending his move, Sajjan said: “There was an approved government policy to safely evacuate as many vulnerable Afghans as possible, which included Canadians obviously first, and those who were with us, our [military] interpreters,” Sajjan said. “It also included vulnerable Afghans – which included religious minorities like Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.”

He also made clear that the role of the military is to follow government directives: “The military is under civilian command, under a minister of national defence, and the job of the minister of national defence is to execute the government policies of the day.”

On Thursday, The Globe reported that Afghan Sikhs were not considered an operational priority for the Canadian military as they had no link to Canada. The daily quoted military sources, who were in Ottawa and on the ground in Kabul at the time, as saying that Sajjan’s directive impacted the rescue of Canadians and other Afghans on Canada’s priority list.

The Globe reported that Sajjan not only directed Canadian forces to rescue Afghan Sikhs but relayed location information and other details about them to the military as special operation forces worked to meet up with the group. The information was passed to him from a Canadian Sikh group that was in contact with these Afghan Sikhs.

Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, who was Conservative leader in 2021 during the fall of Kabul, said House of Commons hearings should examine why Afghan Sikhs were given priority over Canadian citizens, permanent residents and Afghans who risked their lives serving Canada’s army during the 12-year mission in Afghanistan. The rescue operation took place in the early weeks of the 2021 federal election campaign.

“There should be a Commons committee inquiry on this,” O’Toole said. “The government has a lot to answer for this because it is clear there were other politics and priorities at work.”

O’Toole, a former Canadian forces officer, said it was disturbing to learn that the Liberal government was prioritizing people who were not connected to Canada’s Afghan mission. “There were interpreters living in fear for their lives because they helped us so it is un-Canadian to leave those people behind.”

The Bloc Québécois said Thursday that it would propose a motion when the House resumes sitting this fall to hold hearings on Sajjan’s actions during the Afghan evacuation.

Bloc defence critic Christine Normandin said that the party considers what was reported to be “very problematic” and requires examination.

A spokesman for Official Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre said the Conservatives would consider backing a proposal for hearings.

David Lavery, a former elite Canadian special forces soldier who was on the ground in Kabul at the time as part of the Veterans Transition Network, said Sajjan’s intervention affected evacuation efforts. The veterans group was struggling to get as many former military translators and fixers to Canada as they were considered top priorities, right behind Canadian citizens.

“I can guarantee we left people behind because of that,” he said. “We probably left from 500 to 1,000 people easy. Probably more than that. There are still hundreds we are trying to get out.”

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