Sajjan instructed special forces to rescue Afghan Sikhs during fall of Kabul

Opinion: The Liberal government at it again./ Sure get a Sikh military commander that is supposed to be looking after Canadians but uses the resources to collect his countrymen instead. At every level our Government is corrupt or inept you choose.

Then-defence minister maintains he ‘did not order’ Canadian special ops to rescue Afghan Sikhs

John Paul Tasker – CBC News
Posted: June 27, 2024
Last Updated: 7 Hours Ago

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Minister of Emergency Preparedness Harjit Sajjan said that, as defence minister, he relayed information to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) about how to rescue Sikhs in Afghanistan as Kabul was falling to the Taliban. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
Then-defence minister Harjit Sajjan relayed information to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) about how to rescue Sikhs in Afghanistan while troops were trying to get Canadians out of Kabul as it was falling to the Taliban in August of 2021.

Sajjan said in a media statement Thursday that, as minister, he “did not order” Canadian Special Operations Forces to rescue Sikhs in Kabul.

He said Sikhs in Afghanistan were not given priority over Canadians and other groups that Canada was intent on rescuing from a country that had just fallen to a group listed as a terrorist entity under Canadian law.


Sajjan confirmed he did relay information to the armed forces provided to him by a Canadian Sikh group — a non-governmental organization (NGO) that was encouraging the Canadian government to rescue Afghan Sikhs and resettle them in this country.

He said he provided the information “through the appropriate chain of command to assist the group of Afghan Sikhs who had been determined eligible for evacuation.”

“I relayed whatever information the NGO provided about the location and status of these Sikhs to the chain of command for it to use as it saw fit, in line with its operational plan on the ground in Afghanistan.”

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The Globe and Mail published a different interpretation of those events on Thursday.

The paper, citing unnamed sources, said that Sajjan, who currently serves as the minister for emergency preparedness, “instructed Canadian special forces to rescue about 225 Afghan Sikhs” — members of a religious minority in Afghanistan — who were “not considered an operational priority for the Canadian military as they had no link to Canada.”


The military’s stated priority during the evacuation was to support Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family members, as well as vulnerable Afghans who had assisted Canada during its military operation in the country.

The government also identified other groups, including Afghan religious minorities and members of LGBTQ community, as potential evacuees to be resettled.

After interpreting Sajjan’s communications about the Afghan Sikhs as an order from the minister to rescue them, Canadian special forces tried to track the Sikhs down and bring them to the airport to be flown out to safety, the paper reported.

The Globe and Mail said some of its military sources felt “Sajjan was out of line in pressing Canadian special forces to rescue the Afghan Sikhs” because the operation involved “intense planning and it meant fewer soldiers were available to screen people awaiting the last flights out of Kabul.”

WATCH | Sajjan defends his role in rescuing vulnerable Afghans as defence minister

The Globe and Mail says it was told by military sources the mission to rescue the Sikhs was a “logistical nightmare” that happened as Canadian forces were “trying to hurry and process people through who have Canadian passports.”


Speaking to reporters at an unrelated announcement in B.C., Sajjan said the Globe and Mail’s story was “utter BS.”

He said it was approved government policy to try to evacuate Afghan Sikhs.

“All effort was done to carry this out, to get as many people out as possible,” he said.

Asked if he understood his comments to the military to be a direct order to rescue Sikhs, Sajjan referred reporters to his written media statement.

When reporters asked if he intervened to try to help Canadians or any other vulnerable or religious groups get out of Kabul as the Taliban seized control, Sajjan again referred to the written statement. The statement does not address that matter.

When asked if it was appropriate to intervene at all in the rescue mission, Sajjan said it’s the job of the defence minister to “execute the government policies of the day.”


Sajjan suggests he’s being questioned because he’s Sikh

Sajjan suggested that his actions are only now being construed as improper because he’s a Sikh.

Sajjan said he wouldn’t be getting questions about his efforts to help Afghan Sikhs “if I wasn’t wearing a turban.”

Sajjan said something similar in his media statement: “I can only surmise that if I did not wear a turban, no one would question whether my actions were appropriate.”

That sentiment was echoed by the World Sikh Organization, an advocacy group.

“Allegations that Minister Harjit Sajjan acted inappropriately are unfounded and appear to be influenced by bias against his Sikh identity,” the group said in a media statement.

The WSO said it wasn’t just Liberals who were trying to secure safe passage for Sikhs.


The organization said a group of 25 Canadian MPs, including Conservative, NDP and Green members, wrote to then-Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino in July 2020 — a year before the fall of Kabul — calling for a special program for Afghan Sikh and Hindu refugees so that they could be brought to safety in Canada.

Afghanistan Left Behind
Hundreds of people gather, some holding documents, near an evacuation control checkpoint on the perimeter of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 26, 2021. (Wali Sabawoon/Associated Press)
Sikhs in the country had faced suicide bomb attacks in the past and had been targeted by groups like the Islamic State, the WSO said.

“Evacuating vulnerable groups like Afghan Sikhs and Hindus was a humanitarian duty that any Canadian minister should have undertaken. The suggestion that Minister Harjit Sajjan acted on this issue because he is a Sikh is deeply troubling and reflects a disturbing bias,” said WSO president Danish Singh.

In a media statement, the Department of National Defence (DND) said the military’s evacuation orders were “conducted in accordance with direction by the Government of Canada and the Minister of National Defence.”

“Orders were issued by the CDS and his operational level commanders, and they considered risks to carrying out these operations,” the department said.


The DND statement said CAF personnel, working closely with Immigration and Global Affairs Canada officials, were “given a master list of vetted and vulnerable individuals, which it worked to load onto flights.”

CAF personnel did what they could in a very dangerous situation, the department said.

“Afghan Sikhs were amongst several vulnerable populations that Canada and its allies were working to bring to safety as part of the coalition air bridge operation,” the department said.

The Afghan Sikhs left the spot where they were expected to meet up with CAF personnel because they feared for their safety, the Globe and Mail reported.

A suggestion, or an order?

Sajjan confirmed “the government was unable to evacuate from Kabul this group of Afghan Sikhs, although other efforts were more successful.”

Denis Thompson — a former Canadian Armed Forces member and commander of special operations forces, now a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute — said if the defence minister suggests that the military should do something, it’s as good as an order.


Generally speaking, he said, the CAF will do anything to carry out a minister’s direction, as long as it’s lawful.

“If the minister gives direction or asks if something is possible, generally speaking the military will — we’ll focus on that,” he told CBC News.

“The military must follow the direction provided to them by the civilian authorities whether they agree with it or not. If they don’t agree with it, they resign and they get out. Otherwise, they do their best to make it happen.

“In this case, it would have been Canadian Special Forces Command that would have executed the orders to go to that rendezvous point and try and find this group of Sikh Afghans who Minister Sajjan was interested in.”

Asked to respond to Sajjan’s involvement in the rescue of Afghan Sikhs, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the Liberal government’s Kabul rescue efforts were “a failure.”

“Canada has a responsibility to provide some relief to folks and didn’t do a good job,” Singh said.


Singh said he couldn’t comment on whether it was appropriate for Sajjan to liaise with the military on how to rescue a particular group of Sikhs because he doesn’t know enough about what the minister did.

James Bezan, the Conservative defence critic, was asked Thursday if it was appropriate for Singh to relay details about Afghan Sikhs while CAF personnel were trying to rescue Canadians and those who supported the Canadian mission.

Bezan said the Liberal government has failed the military “because they don’t trust or respect the expert leadership of our men and women in uniform, be it on procurement, recruitment or in operations.”


John Paul Tasker
Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC’s parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at

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With files from the CBC’s Ashley Burke

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