Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump had a testy phone call on May 25 over new tariffs imposed by the Trump administration targeting steel and aluminum imports coming from Canada, CNN reported and CBC confirmed Wednesday.
Trump invoked the burning of the White House during the War of 1812 during the call when pressed by Trudeau on how he could justify the tariffs on “national security” grounds, given that the two nations have fought side by side in two world wars, the Korean War and most recently in Afghanistan.
In response, according to CNN, Trump quipped to Trudeau, “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?” making an erroneous historical reference to the War of 1812.
In fact it was the British troops that burned down the White House in 1814 during the War of 1812, in retaliation for an American attack on York, part of present-day Toronto in Ontario, a British colony at the time.
It’s not clear whether Trump was trying to inject some humour into the tense phone call.
According to the official readout of the phone call provided by the Prime Minister’s Office, Trudeau and Trump also discussed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“The Prime Minister also raised strong concerns about the U.S.’s Section 232 investigation on automobile imports, given the mutually beneficial integration of the Canadian and American auto industries,” the readout said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Trump and Trudeau have a “truly warm personal relationship.”
“Having said that, as the prime minister said clearly on Thursday (May 31)… the United States took an illegal action, which was directed at the closest allies of the United States, including Canada,” Freeland told reporters in Ottawa. “And Canada’s response was and will continue to be measured, perfectly reciprocal and strong.”
In a joint press conference on Thursday, May 31, Trudeau and Freeland announced dollar-for-dollar Canadian countermeasures of up to $16.6 billion in retaliation for the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada announced by the Trump administration.
“These tariffs are totally unacceptable,” Trudeau said in his May 31 remarks. “For 150 years, Canada has been America’s most steadfast ally. Canadians have served alongside Americans in two world wars and in Korea. From the beaches of Normandy to the mountains of Afghanistan, we have fought and died together.”
Canada and the U.S. are partners in NORAD, NATO, and around the world, Trudeau added.
“That Canada could be considered a national security threat to the United States is inconceivable,” Trudeau said.
The issue of tariffs is likely to become a flash point during the G7 leaders meeting in Charlevoix on Friday and Saturday.
Trudeau spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s Office announced.
“The Prime Minister and the Chancellor emphasized the need for comprehensive discussions on economic growth that benefits everyone, gender equality and women’s empowerment, girls’ education, and peace and security,” said the read out of the phone call.
“The leaders re-affirmed their commitment to open, rules-based international trade.”