June 7, 2018 4:42 pm
Updated: June 8, 2018 12:14 am

Trudeau dismisses Trump quip about Canadians burning down the White House

WATCH: Trudeau dismisses Trump’s phone call ‘quip’ about White House burning

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he didn’t pay much attention to the peculiar quip reportedly made by U.S. President Donald Trump during a May 25 phone call over tariffs.

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CNN reported that when Trudeau protested Trump’s characterization of tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum as a “national security” issue, Trump retorted, “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?” in an apparent reference to the War of 1812.

The White House Historical Association notes that the White House was burned by the British general Robert Ross in 1814 in retaliation for the American burning and plundering of York, the capital of Upper Canada.

READ MORE: Tariffs on steel and aluminum might cost the U.S. 400,000 jobs — and Canada could get hit too

However, Trudeau said on Thursday that his focus was on tariffs rather than Trump’s erroneous history lesson.

“Obviously, I didn’t pay much attention to the quip. I focus on the message I was putting out, which was that it is inconceivable — and quite frankly, insulting — that the United States considers Canada to be a threat to national security,” Trudeau said.

“This is something that is going to hurt and threaten jobs not just in Canada, but indeed in the United States. There are workers across the United States that are going to suffer, consumers that are going to suffer because of these wrong-headed tariffs, and that’s very much what I was focused on in this conversation.”

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The Trudeau government has repeatedly slammed the Trump administration for invoking national security in justifying the imposition of tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

Trudeau told Global National on Wednesday that he didn’t understand “in what universe” Canada could be perceived as a national security threat to the U.S.

He added that he deals with Trump’s unpredictability by doing his part to maintain “a constructive, productive relationship … that is based on not insulting each other and not disrespecting each other.”

WATCH: Trudeau and tariffs: What will he say to President Trump?

Earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and warned the U.S. about the message it was sending its neighbour to the north.

“So, what you’re saying to us and to all of your NATO allies, is that we somehow represent a national security threat to the United States,” Freeland said. “And I would just say to all of Canada’s American friends — seriously?”

READ MORE: Chrystia Freeland on U.S. tariffs, Trump’s claim Canada is security threat

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis had said in an undated memo that the Department of Defense “concurs with the Department of Commerce’s conclusion that imports of foreign steel and aluminum based on unfair trading practices impair the national security,” but also pointed out that the U.S. military requirements for steel and aluminum represent only about three per cent of U.S. production.

Numbers released Wednesday by Statistic Canada show that after months of contractions, Canada saw its merchandise trade surplus with the U.S. widen in April. That was before the steel and aluminum tariffs were applied to Canada.

WATCH: ‘In what universe is Canada … somehow become a national security threat’ to the U.S.?

The overall goods and services surplus generally lies in favour of the U.S.; numbers from 2017 show the U.S. with a goods and services trade surplus of US$8.4 billion.

— With files from Tania Kohut

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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