When Justin Trudeau asked him what "national security" issue could possibly justify new tariffs on Canadian imports during a May 25 phone call, President Trump had to reach back a long way, sources tell CNN: "Didn't you guys burn down the White House?" Trump said, referring to a famous incident during the War of 1812. But Trump might not have been paying attention in history class: The 1814 attack, in which troops occupied Washington, DC, and set the White House, Capitol, and other buildings alight after President James Madison fled, was carried out by British troops, not Canadians, in retaliation for an American attack on what is now Toronto. Britain's Canadian colonies did not gain independence until 1867, more than 50 years after the White House burned. "Is Britain off the hook?" the Telegraph quipped.
It's not clear if Trump "was attempting to inject humor into a discussion on a topic that could have serious economic repercussions," the CBC notes, but the leaders will have a chance to discuss it further when Trump visits Quebec for the G7 summit this weekend. According to Canada's Globe and Mail, Trump's recent anti-Canadian sentiment stems not from the 204-year-old incident, but from "dashed expectations." Trudeau had long largely avoided speaking out against Trump, and the president was apparently surprised when the Canadian leader pushed back against the new tariffs, calling them "insulting and unacceptable." "Trump thought Canada was going to be the easiest country to play, and he’s disappointed that didn't happen," says Canadian trade lawyer Dunniella Kaufman. (In 2014, the British embassy in Washington apologized for celebrating the 200th anniversary of the burning of the White House.)