05/18/2017 03:06 EDT

Harjit Sajjan: Salaries Of Military, Police Deployed Overseas Will Be Exempted From Federal Income Tax

KINGSTON, Ont. — All military personnel and police officers sent overseas on major operations will have their salaries exempted from federal income tax for the duration of their deployment, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced Thursday.

Sajjan announced the measure — which exempts eligible salaries from federal tax up to the pay level of lieutenant-colonel — during a graduation ceremony at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

"When our men and women in uniform deploy, they and their families make great sacrifices on our behalf," Sajjan said.

harjit sajjan

Minister of National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 15, 2017. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The move, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2017, is part of the Liberal government's new defence policy update, to be released in full June 7. It's expected to cost about $85 million over the next five years, according to the Department of Finance.

The question of tax benefits for military personnel overseas has been a prickly issue for the minister in recent months.

Service members based in Kuwait have been complaining that they were being unfairly treated because of changes that saw their tax-exempt status stripped away.

Sajjan said those facing particularly dangerous or difficult assignments will still get extra pay in the form of a hardship allowance.

Much of the minister's speech Thursday dealt with the treatment of military personnel, an area he said successive governments had failed to address.

"When our men and women in uniform deploy, they and their families make great sacrifices on our behalf."

"By caring about the well-being of those around you, you have already begun to hold up your end of the bargain," Sajjan said.

"I'd like to take a moment to reflect on the other side of the equation. It is my view that successive governments have not always held up their end of the bargain nearly well enough."

Sajjan, who serves as the military college's chancellor, promised the Liberal government's new defence policy update would start to address those shortcomings.

"Canada's new defence policy must put those who serve at its core," Sajjan said.

"It must do more than pay lip service to the fact that our people are our most important capability."

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