Canada defence minister Harjit Sajjan
Harjit Sajjan was appointed as Canada's first Sikh defence minister. Getty

Canada's first Sikh defence minister Harjit Sajjan was heckled in Parliament by an opposition member MP in an act that has been called "racist". Conservative MP Jason Kenney sparked controversy by shouting that MPs needed an "English-to-English" translation to understand Sajjan.

The incident took place on 1 February as Canadian ministers debated the country's military action against Islamic State (Isis). Following the period of question and answers, Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux rose on a point of order about Kenney's "inappropriate comment", urging for him to consider apologising to the newly-appointed defence minister.

MP Lamoureux said: "The minister of defence was providing an answer, which was quite legible, individuals heard the question, and yet the member from Calgary Midnapore [Kenney] stated from across the seat that we need to have 'English-to-English translation'. I'm wondering if the member would do the proper thing and apologise or, at the very least, explain his comments?"

However, MP Kenney refused to admit that he was in the wrong and said he would not apologise for what he believed was a reasonable comment. Kenny said: "The minister's answers were totally incoherent so there's nothing to apologise for."

Other MPs were quick to jump to the aid of defence minister Sajjan, condemning MP Kenney's remarks. Indian-origin MP Ruby Sahota tweeted: "Shame on @jkenny for his racist remarks during today's qp and refusal to apologise is unacceptable."

Another Indian-origin MP, MP Raj Grewal, echoed Sahota's views that the incident was "unacceptable" and called on MP Kenny to apologise. Kenney responded to the tweets by saying that he had "huge respect" for defence minister Sajjan but continued to refuse to apologise.

In a series of tweets, Kenney said: "Unfortunately I find his [Sajjan's] answers on ending combat against Isis to be at best unpersuasive and, at worst, incoherent. That's the point I tried to make. Sorry if it was misconstrued in any way. He's a fine, intelligent man but, [in my honest opinion], his position is wrong."

Defence minister Sajjan was appointed as Canada's defence minister in November 2015 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's 30-member Liberal cabinet was formed. Having originally been born in India, he moved to Canada with his family when he was five years old and has lived in the country ever since. He has served as a combat veteran and had deployments in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Kandahar.