Harjit Sajjan Backs Off Comments About First Nations Calling In Military

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WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Free Press is reporting that federal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is backing off on comments his office made suggesting he might consider giving direct power to First Nations to call in the military when they feel their rights or communities are being threatened.

In a report out of Ottawa, the newspaper says it was told by Sajjan on Thursday that he doesn't think the system needs to be changed.

harjit sajjan
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks with media on Parliament Hill on June 15, 2015. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

On Wednesday, it appeared Sajjan was considering the request from Ron Swain, vice-chief with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

Swain told Sajjan during consultations with Manitoba indigenous groups that aboriginal communities deserve the same rights as provincial governments.

He said they should have the authority under the National Defence Act to call in the military to fight civil unrest and during other crises.

Swain, whose group represents First Nations and Metis who do not live on reserve, pointed to the Oka crisis of 1990, when the Quebec government called in the military to try to restore order after repeated clashes between police and Mohawk protesters.

'We do have a good system in place'

After the meeting Wednesday, Sajjan's office was non-committal but indicated the request was one of a whole host of things Sajjan would consider as part of the policy review.

But Sajjan was more clear in an interview with the Free Press on Thursday.

"We do have a good system in place and they just need to be reassured the system that is there will serve them as a priority," Sajjan told the newspaper.

He noted the Canadian military is deployed at home almost entirely to help during natural disasters and most of the assets and infrastructure to help is kept at the municipal or provincial level.

Points to provincial responsibilities

Sajjan said the military is there to help First Nations affected as well but he said the process in place is for the province to seek help from Public Safety Canada, which has the lead on emergency preparedness. If the public safety minister feels additional resources are needed, he then turns to the defence minister to send in some troops.

"When it comes to the protection of Canadians, it is a responsibility within the municipal and provincial responsibilities when it comes to public safety," he told the Free Press.

He said the request from Swain "was a question that was raised by one person so we had a discussion about it. The biggest thing is making sure every Canadian, especially indigenous communities, feel they are properly served by all levels of government."

Swain could not be reached Thursday for comment.

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