Canada said Thursday it told the Trump administration that a proposal to put troops at the U.S.-Canada border amid the coronavirus pandemic was entirely unnecessary and would damage relations between the two longtime allies.
The Wall Street Journal, citing an unidentified U.S. official, later reported that the Trump administration had dropped its consideration of the plan.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government had been in discussions with the White House seeking to persuade the U.S. not to do it.
“Canada and the United States have the longest un-militarized border in the world and it is very much in both of our interests for it to remain that way,” Trudeau said.
Trump said the U.S. has troops at the border but then said he would need to find out about that. He then suggested he would deploy troops along the Canadian border to match what is being done at the Mexican border.
“I guess it’s equal justice to a certain extent,” Trump said. “We have a lot of things coming in from Canada, we have trade, some illegal trade, that we don’t like.”
According to a U.S. official, the Department of Homeland Security did make a formal request to the Pentagon for military forces to provide additional security along the northern border, between entry points. The official said the request was made a few days ago and the Defense Department had done some initial planning but there was no final decision on whether or not to approve the request.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said there was no discussion about closing the border, only about beefing up efforts to prevent any illegal crossings. It wasn’t clear whether the department was still pursuing the request by late Thursday afternoon, or if approved, whether it would be filled by active duty or National Guard troops.
Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government had told the Trump administration there was no justification for troops. Very few people cross the border into the U.S. from Canada illegally and Canada has universal health care and widespread testing for the virus. And COVID-19 cases are surging more in the U.S. than in Canada.
“What we have said is, ‘We really do not believe at all that there would be a public health justification for you to take this action,’” Freeland said. “And we have said, ‘We really don’t think this is the right way to treat a trusted friend and military ally.’”
Freeland said specifics of the U.S. proposal was a question for American officials to answer and declined to say what the Trump administration was contemplating.
She said they Canada was “very directly and very forcefully” expressing the view that “this is an entirely unnecessary step” that Canada would “view as damaging to the relationship.”
Freeland said they first learned of the proposal a few days ago. Trudeau’s office had been in direct contact with the White House and Canada’s defense and public safety ministers had spoken to their counterparts.
Canada has more than 3,400 coronavirus cases, 35 deaths and has tested over 158,000 people.
Canada sends 75% of its imports to the U.S. and about 18% of American exports go to Canada. The two countries have already closed the border both ways to all non-essential travel.
Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, said it would be a serious misuse of resources and a dangerous and inappropriate use of American troops.
“It makes no military sense. It makes no economic sense. It makes no sense at any level other than Donald Trump’s political level,” Heyman said.