American government officials inside Donald Trump’s White House are actively discussing putting troops near the Canadian borders in light of U.S. border security concerns around the new coronavirus pandemic, sources tell Global News.
Few people cross from Canada into the United States at an unofficial point each year but the goal of the policy would be to help border guards detect irregular crossers, the sources said.
While the White House is pushing for this, no decision has been made.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the news while giving his daily briefing to reporters from Rideau Cottage, acknowledging that conversations are taking place.
“Canada and the United States have the longest unmilitarized border in the world and it is very much in both of our interests for it to remain that way,” he said.
“We have been in discussions with the United States on this.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland also weighed in during a briefing shortly afterwards with reporters, saying that Canadian cabinet ministers and diplomats have been working to try to make it clear to the Americans that this is not a plan Canada supports.
“Canada is strongly opposed to this U.S. proposal and we’ve made that very clear to our U.S. counterparts,” she said, noting Canadian officials first learned of the proposal “a couple of days ago.”
“We are very directly and very forcefully expressing the view I shared a moment ago, which is that in Canada’s view, this is an entirely unnecessary step which we will view as damaging to our relationship.”
Global News has asked the White House to comment on this story but has not received a response.
Trump was asked about this proposal during his COVID-19 task force daily briefing.
“We have very strong deployments on the southern border, as you know, Mexico, and we have some troops up in Canada, but I’ll find out about that,” he said.
“I guess it’s equal justice to a certain extent, but in Canada, we do have troops along the border.”
Trump then mentioned trade with Canada and how the U.S. doesn’t “like steel coming through our border.”
Any militarization on or near the Canadian border would be a stark departure from traditional relations between the two countries as the Canadian-U.S. border has traditionally been recognized as one of the longest non-militarized borders in the world.
The proposal has raised diplomatic concerns on both sides of the border.
While the move would be temporary — lasting only as long as the new coronavirus pandemic — some in Washington are concerned about Canadian reaction and the precedent set by sending troops to their northern and southern borders, sources told Global News.
If the plans come to fruition, Global News has learned troops would be stationed about 30 kilometres from the border between official points of entry and would use sensor technology to detect irregular crossers before passing on the information to border patrol agents.
Under the proposed scenario, the troops would not have the authority to arrest or detain anyone, sources say. Instead, border patrol agents would be sent to intercept the irregular crossers.
United States law prohibits its military from acting as domestic law enforcement, instead only allowing troops to serve in a support role within its own borders.
Sources said the plan would likely involve fewer than 1,000 military personnel.
On Thursday afternoon, the American magazine The Nation published a report citing a leaked memo from the Department of Homeland Security that said Customs and Border Protection made the request for 1,000 troops to support it at the Canadian border and another 540 at the border with Mexico.
That report also said the memo was vague on how or if those troops could use force, saying that “use of force will be informed by the circumstances of their missions.”
Nearly 20,000 people crossed into Canada from the U.S. in 2018, according to official government statistics. U.S. Border Patrol statistics show they apprehended 4,316 people crossing from Canada to the United States in 2018.
The Trump administration policy stems from fears any irregular crossers may be carrying COVID-19.
On March 26, the U.S. surpassed China and Italy as the country with the most coronavirus cases in the world, with 81,378 according to a Reuters tally.
At the same time in Canada, there were just over 4,000 confirmed cases.
— With files by Global News reporter Maryam Shah