In late November, I argued in the pages of this blog that Canada was noticeably absent from the Biden administration’s foreign policy upheaval. President Joe Biden came into office promising to restore alliances to the center of U.S. foreign policy. Initially, Canada appeared to be one of the first stops. Yet, despite complimentary rhetoric over the past two years, most of the action taken to revitalize this key relationship has mostly falled on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It was not until last month that Mr. Biden finally made his much-vaunted trip to Ottawa to meet with Mr. Trudeau
In his brief and belated trip to Ottawa, President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Canada relationship that became strained during the Trump administration. The mood of the trip friendly, with the two leaders referring to one another casually as “Justin” and “Joe.” Mr. Biden and Mr. Trudeau, during their bilateral summit, discussed many foreign policy issues of the day, including China, Russia, climate change, and even made an announcement on that Canada would escalate its timeline for military upgrades to the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Mr. Biden even address the Canadian Parliament where he reassured Canadian lawmakers of the binding ties between the United States and Canada: “And today, I say to you, and al all the people of Canada, that you will always, always be able to count on the United States of America. I guarantee it.”
The trip was long overdue, to be sure. But as the trip progressed, it became obvious that the purpose extended beyond reassuring Canada of the importance of the alliance. As Mr. Biden met with Mr. Trudeau, the two leaders got down to business, discussing two of the most contentious issues in the U.S.-Canadian relationship: migration and Haiti.
Migration is a major political headache for both the Biden and Trudeau administrations. Just like Mr. Biden is facing constant criticism about the surge of migrants along the U.S. border with Mexico, Mr. Trudeau is under pressure to better handle irregular migration to Canada. Of particular concern is Roxham Road, a well-traveled road that saw roughly 40,000 asylum seekers enter between Quebec and New York, about which the Quebec premier called on Mr. Trudeau to raise the issue with Mr. Biden during the bilateral summit.
In an effort to make cooperation on migration easier for both sides Mr. Biden announced that the United States and Canada reached a deal to modernize the U.S.-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement, in place since 2004. The previous iteration of the agreement required that asylum seekers make their asylum claims in the first country where the arrive and, as a result, each country could send back the asylum seekers who were passing through an official port of entry along the U.S.-Canada border. The updated agreement now allows both countries to send asylum seekers back to the other country even if they pass between ports of entry along the border. Securing the expansion of this agreement lighten some of the pressure each leader feels on the politicized issue of migration. The amended agreement also allowed the United States and Canada to address one of the most contentious issues in this key relationship.
Another key issue on the agenda was the crisis in Haiti, which first began after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 202. Haiti is now plagued by political instability, failed institutions, starvation, a cholera outbreak, and corruption with heavily armed gangs controlling most of Port-au-Prince, the battered capital, and other parts of the country. Haiti is quickly on its way to becoming a failed state, if it is not already.
To quell the violence, the United Nation called for international peacekeepers to augment the Haitian police forces (NPR). The United States, keen to not send U.S. troops to Haiti, suggests that Canada lead the multinational effort to stabilize the island nation. “The United States believes that finding a country to help lead that effort is important,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan commented. “Canada itself has expressed interest in taking on a leadership role.” However, this is an idea on which Mr. Biden and Mr. Trudeau disagree.
After reviewing the initial thought, the Canadian government is no longer in favor of leading a peacekeeping force in Haiti, raising concerns about the Canadian military’s capability to take on such a daunting task. In fact, Mr. Trudeau dismissed the idea of a Canadian military intervention in Haiti all together. Instead, Canada is providing aid and training to the Haitian National Police. While Mr. Biden and Mr. Trudeau did not come to a final consensus on how to handle the ongoing crisis in Haiti, the two leaders were able to candidly discuss one of the most controversial issues in the U.S.-Canadian relationship.
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