Little India: Overseas Indian, NRI, Asian Indian, Indian American

Indian-Origin Defense Minister Admits to Facing Discrimination in Canada’s Military

Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan

Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan, who is currently accompanying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family on their India tour, said that he faced discrimination in the country’s military because he “looked different,” PTI reported.

Sajjan made the revelation in presence of the PM’s wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. “I was born in India and moved to Canada, when I was five… When I was 18 and joined the military there, I faced discrimination, even though I am a Canadian… because I looked different,” the Indian-origin politician said at the Asia launch of the “She Will grow Into It” campaign in New Delhi on Feb. 22. Sajjan was a non-commissioned officer from the Canadian Forces Base at Valcartier near Quebec City.

The Canadian Sikh minister was the target of racial discrimination as  recently as about a couple of years ago. A day after he was sworn in as Canada’s defense minister in Nov. 2015, an officer targeted him on the social media with a racist comment.

The comment was later removed and an armed forces spokesperson said that bullies have no space in the army. The military’s Chief Warrant Officer Kevin West also sent an email to his troops on the incident, the Toronto Star had reported. “It’s totally unacceptable. We already deal with conduct problems on a daily basis in our ranks, and it’s our duty and that of our leaders to put an end to it immediately. I was made aware of this incident, and to say that I am mad is not the word,” the email stated.

Sajjan, along with Trudeau and his wife, visited Amritsar on Feb.21 and offered sewa (volunteer service) as part of the delegation’s week-long trip to India.

Sajjan also shared an anecdote from his younger days to emphasis the theme of the campaign. “I hail from a small village and lived a very simple life, before migrating to Canada. I was 12, and I came across a girl in India, with round, beautiful eyes, who came towards me begging for money and I asked her to go away…Years later in Canada, when I faced discrimination, her face flashed in front of my eyes, and I realized she was begging because she was hungry,” he said.

The Canadian minister said that he realized then how it felt to be treated unequal. “Sixty per cent of the world’s malnourished people are women, and this campaign seeks to fill the gap,” Sajjan was quoted by PTI as saying.

The campaign is spearheaded by Canada-based non-profit organization Nutrition International.