Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rejecting demands that he fire his Defence Minister, saying Harjit Sajjan has apologized for embellishing his role in a crucial battle in Afghanistan.
Mr. Sajjan, a former reservist, was decorated for his service as an intelligence officer during Operation Medusa, which took place over two weeks in the late summer of 2006. But he was repeatedly derided on Monday in the House of Commons for exaggerating his importance to the planning of that offensive in a speech he delivered in India in April.
"People in the military have a name for what he did," said Rona Ambrose, the interim Leader of the Conservatives. "It's called stolen valour – when someone takes credit for the brave actions of another. What he did was wrong. And now he has lost the confidence of our men and women in uniform. They need to have confidence in their leaders, especially when they are putting their lives on the line. Will the Prime Minister remove the Minister of Defence?"
Mr. Trudeau replied by saying Mr. Sajjan made a mistake.
"He acknowledged his responsibility and apologized for it. That is what Canadians expect when one makes a mistake. We own up to our mistake; we apologize for it," the Prime Minister said. "This minister has served his country in many capacities, as a police officer, as a soldier, and now as a minister. He has my full confidence."
But Tom Mulcair, the NDP Leader, said Mr. Sajjan's response to being caught in a fabrication has been inadequate. The Minister of Defence has "told a whopper about his record," Mr. Mulcair said. That "is not something you apologize for, it's something that you have to step down for."
After the first round of questioning, Mr. Trudeau left it up to the Defence Minister to respond to the calls for his resignation.
"I am not here to make excuses," Mr. Sajjan told the House. "I intend to own my mistake, apologize for it, learn from it, and continue to serve."
It is one of the more significant missteps made by members of Mr. Trudeau's cabinet since the Liberal government took office in November, 2015. Hunter Tootoo resigned as fisheries minister in May of last year to deal with a drinking problem and the fallout of a messy love triangle.
Mr. Sajjan served in Afghanistan while on leave from his job as a detective with the Vancouver police.
He told a meeting of a research foundation in New Delhi on April 14 that he was the "architect" of Operation Medusa, a land battle between NATO and 1,400 Taliban in that killed 12 Canadians – including four soldiers who served directly under Mr. Sajjan – and about 550 insurgents. In fact, the operation was planned and overseen by then major-general David Fraser.
Mr. Fraser subsequently wrote to the chief of the Vancouver police saying the work Mr. Sajjan did to gather intelligence about the Taliban "was so compelling that it drove a number of large scale theatre-resourced efforts, including Operation Medusa."
But the Conservatives say they can point to a number of instances where Mr. Sajjan has been less than truthful in his job as Minister, including an instance where he appears to have misrepresented the unhappiness of Iraqi officials with Canada's decision to withdraw fighter jets from the fight against the Islamic State.
Mr. Sajjan apologized on his Facebook page on Saturday for claiming to have been the architect of Operation Medusa. He followed that with more words of regret on Monday.
"I would like to apologize for my mistake in describing my role," he told reporters. "I would like to retract that, and I'm truly sorry for it. I in no way would like to diminish the great work that my former superiors and our soldiers have done on operations, and I'm truly sorry for it."