Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says Syrian President Bashar Assad has to go, adding his voice to the calls for Assad to step aside.

Sajjan, who has been in the defence post for less than three weeks now, made the comments on CTV’s Question Period. 

“I’m of the opinion that President Assad, he does need to go, given the complexity of the problem and the horrible atrocities that have been committed to his own people,” said Sajjan from the Halifax International Security Forum.

The defence minister joins the likes of U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande, who have both said that Assad has to go. The Western partners, including Canada, have remained committed to defeating ISIS without appearing to prop up Assad. 

When the Syrian conflict initially broke out between Assad and rebel groups in 2011, the West painted Assad as the ultimate enemy who had to step aside. But now that the Islamic State has established a strong presence in the war-torn country, the political picture is even more complicated.

Russia and Iran are backing Assad in his government’s fight against the terror group, while Western countries like the U.S. are now trying to determine how to address two big tasks -- the removal of Assad and defeat of ISIS. 

Sajjan said Canada’s new Liberal government, like the American government, is not ready to back down on its desire to see Assad go. He said Canada is trying to stay focused on the “wider picture” and remember that Assad instigated the current conflict in Syria, even as ISIS gains ground in the country. 

“What we’ve got to keep in mind here is how did this whole problem start? That Assad’s regime has killed more of its own people than even Daesh (ISIS) actually has,” Sajjan said. 

In his first weeks as prime minister, Justin Trudeau has faced many questions about his government’s commitment to the fight against ISIS. 

He has told Obama that Canada plans to withdraw from the combat portion of the coalition – CF-18 fighter jets that the previous Conservative government committed to -- and focus its military efforts on training Iraqi troops. Sajjan defended the government’s commitment, emphasizing the fact that the fight against ISIS is not just a combat effort.

“One capability is not going to take the fight to the enemy,” said Sajjan. “And talking to a lot of the different counterparts, the different ministers are very welcoming to the fact that we’re looking at making a meaningful contribution.”

When asked if Canada will commit more Special Forces to the training mission for Iraqi soldiers, Sajjan said he will leave those details to the chief of the defence staff.