Trump to Trudeau in testy tariff call: ‘Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?’ (no, it was the British)
The US President turned to the War of 1812 to justify tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium on national security grounds
He has criticised Canada’s trade polices as “unfair” and dismissed its dairy policy as “a disgrace”.
Now, Donald Trump has reportedly added a 200-year-old battle to his litany of complaints against the United States’ northern neighbour.
During a tetchy phone call last month to discuss looming steel and aluminium tariffs, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, reportedly asked how Trump could justify the new duties on national security grounds.
In reply, Trump asked, according to CNN: “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?” The White House did not respond to a request for comment and a Canadian official declined to comment on the record.
The White House was burned by British troops in 1814 as part of a failed invasion of the mid-Atlantic, more than 50 years before the signing of Canada’s confederation paved the way for the country to become independent.
Although the British successfully took Washington and burned much of the city, they failed in their major goal of taking Baltimore when their forces were rebuffed at the battle of Fort McHenry.
Canada was a major battleground during the conflict – known as the War of 1812 – which played a significant part in the creation of the Canadian national identity.
The conflict was provoked by a decade of British provocations against the US, including impressing American sailors, imposing restrictions on American trade and providing support for Native American attacks on frontier settlements.
Trump’s comments come at a time of increased tensions between the US and Canada, after the US president unilaterally imposed increased tariffs without congressional approval, citing national security needs.
The border between the US and Canada has been demilitarised for two centuries.
Trump’s justification for the new duties has provoked outrage from Canadians.
Trudeau said in an interview with NBC on Sunday: “One of the things that I have to admit I’m having a lot of trouble getting around is the idea that this entire thing is coming about because the president and the administration have decided that Canada and Canadian steel and aluminium is a national security threat to the United States.”
Trudeau also noted the long history of military and diplomatic partnership between the countries. “Our soldiers had fought and died together on the beaches of second world war and the mountains of Afghanistan and have stood shoulder to shoulder in some of the most difficult places in the world, that are always there for each other, somehow – this is insulting to that,” said Trudeau. “The idea that the Canadian steel that’s in military vehicles in the United States, the Canadian aluminium that makes your fighter jets is somehow now a threat.”