India-born former soldier sworn in as Canada's new defense minister

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Harjit Sajjan, a former police officer and veteran of three military deployments to Afghanistan, was named Canada’s new minister of defense on Wednesday, bringing first-hand expertise to one of the country’s top cabinet positions.

Sajjan will oversee an anticipated change in Canada’s military involvement in the battle against militants in Syria and Iraq. Newly sworn-in Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already said he wants to end Canada’s air strikes in the region in favor of providing humanitarian help.

Born in India and elected to Parliament for the first time in last month’s election, Sajjan is illustrative of the younger, more diverse cabinet Trudeau had aimed to create.

Outgoing Conservative defense minister Jason Kenney had taken a hardline stance on security, saying Canada needed to be fighting against Islamic State militants to prevent them from becoming a threat to Canada.

The issue has been at the forefront in the last year since a gunman killed a soldier and stormed Canada’s Parliament last October.

Sajjan is a Lieutenant-Colonel in Canada’s armed forces and was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was Canada’s first Sikh commanding officer and received a number of recognitions for his service, including the Order of Military Merit.

Sajjan was also a police officer in Vancouver for 11 years, which included working as a detective in the gang crime unit. He won the riding of Vancouver South where he grew up, defeating a Conservative incumbent.

He is married with two young children.

Editing by G Crosse