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China, Haiti and migration top agenda for Biden-Trudeau meeting


OTTAWA — President Biden is using his first trip to Canada to affirm the close ties between the two nations, seeking to set the stage for joint efforts to confront the alliance between Russia and China, tighten the U.S.-Canada border and combat climate change.

During his whirlwind 24-hour trip, Biden has addressed Canada’s Parliament and met one-on-one with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, ahead of a joint news conference with the Canadian leader later in the afternoon.

“Today I say to you and to all the people of Canada that you will always, always be able to count on the United States of America, I guarantee you,” Biden told a boisterous Canadian parliament that several times gave him a standing ovation. “Together, we have built a partnership that is an incredible advantage to both our nations.”

The United States and Canada also announced they had reached an agreement to let each country turn away asylum seekers who reach their border at unofficial crossings, striking the long-sought deal that is aimed at helping Canada stem the rising number of asylum seekers who have crossed the border from the United States in Upstate New York. In exchange, Canada has agreed to create a pathway for 15,000 refugees to legally enter the country, an effort to help mitigate the growing influx of migrants entering the United States from Mexico.

The successful conclusion of the immigration deal ensured that the two leaders had a high-profile agreement to announce during their summit. Renegotiating the Safe Third Country Agreement, under which Canada and the United States share responsibility for migrants in need of protection, has long been a priority for Canada.

Under the current pact, which went into effect in 2004, asylum seekers who enter Canada at official land border crossings are sent back to the United States, and vice versa. But the agreement has not applied to unofficial crossings along the 5,500-mile border.

The number of asylum seekers crossing into Canada at those unofficial points of entry rose sharply under President Donald Trump, and the rate has not abated under Biden. Nearly 40,000 asylum seekers crossed into Canada from the United States in 2022, the most since Canada began tracking the number in 2017.

Canadian officials have for years pressed the United States to extend the Safe Third Country Agreement to cover unofficial crossings as well. Trudeau, who has faced pressure from Quebec’s premier and the opposition Conservative Party to close the “loophole” in the agreement, told reporters this week that his government has “been working very closely with the Americans for many months.”

Biden’s remarks to parliament were mixed with giddy familiarity, as he remarked on renovations to the hall they were in (“You’ve done a hell of a job!”) and earned boos when he said he couldn’t pull for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, because they had recently beat the Philadelphia Flyers (“I married a Philly girl. If I didn’t say that, I’d be sleeping alone.”)

“Bonjour, Canada!” Biden said to start his remarks in the House of Commons. “I must tell you, I took four years of French in school. First time I attempted to make a speech in French, I was laughed at. So that’s as good as I can get right now.”

The Biden-Trudeau meeting came at a tense moment in the world, as Biden works to hold together the international coalition confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The United States and Canada have also had to coordinate a response to China’s growing aggressiveness, especially since a Chinese spy balloon flew over North America earlier this year.

Underlining the global divisions, the summit between the two Western leaders comes just days after Putin met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Moscow.

“We’ve both used sanctions and punitive economic measures to continue to deplete the Kremlin’s war chest,” Trudeau told the parliament before introducing Biden. “After a terrifying spring violent summer and fall and an exhausting winter, Ukraine still stands.”

“The Ukrainian people are counting on us,” he added. “We must stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine with as much as it takes, as long as it takes.”

The two leaders also discussed efforts to fight climate change, stabilize Haiti and curb migration. And they are discussed ways to modernize the North American air detection and defense system known as NORAD.

While it has taken Biden two years into his presidency to visit Canada, his first call to a foreign leader after becoming president was to Trudeau.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived on Thursday evening, where they were greeted by Mary Simon, the governor general of Canada, and then joined Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, for a private dinner at their residence.

The visit has been a major focus of news coverage here, and the streets around Biden’s downtown hotel are displaying American and Canadian flags. A pastry shop, which still boasts of the time President Barack Obama made a brief stop there for a cookie in 2009, has been selling cookies marked “U.S. Presidential Visit Ottawa 2023.”

Biden’s visit provided a welcome change of subject for Trudeau, who for weeks has faced questions on what his government knew about alleged Chinese interference in recent Canadian elections and how it responded to the meddling.

But the long-awaited visit is shorter than Canadian officials had hoped, as Biden is set to depart Friday around 9 p.m. The trip will not include what Trudeau had mused might include a visit to a “shop floor” so that Biden could get a firsthand look at the close linkages between the two economies.

The trip marks Biden’s first official visit to Ottawa since late 2016, when he was the outgoing vice president. At a state dinner that year in Biden’s honor, he gave a toast noting that his first wife’s family was from Toronto and said his sons grew up wanting to be Mounties.

During that visit, about a month after Trump’s election, Biden told Trudeau that the world would be looking to him to champion the “liberal international order” as it faced more challenges than at any time since the end of World War II.

“The way I look at our relationship … I know sometimes we’re like the big brother that’s a pain in the neck and overbearing,” Biden said in his remarks at the time. “I get it. But we’re more like family, even, than allies.”

That traditionally close tie was tested during the Trump administration, which saw the former president lob personal attacks at Trudeau and levy tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, enraging Canadians and prompting retaliation.

Most Canadian officials breathed a sigh of relief when Biden was elected in 2020, and officials said they were eager to collaborate with his administration to tackle issues such as climate change.

But while Trudeau has a far warmer personal relationship with Biden than Trump, irritants remain. They include U.S. trade policies that Canadians view as protectionist as well as issues related to defense and security.

Biden’s “Buy American” rhetoric has made Canadian businesses anxious — as have the tax credits and other incentives for U.S. manufacturers in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, including for clean energy.

In a fall economic update, the Canadian government announced two clean-energy tax credits in response to the Inflation Reduction Act, warning that without new measures to “keep pace” with the U.S. legislation, “Canada risks being left behind.”

In addition, the United States has been pressing Canada to assume a “leadership role” in Haiti, including by leading a multinational armed force tasked with restoring order to the Caribbean nation, which is reeling from gang violence, hunger and a cholera outbreak.

Canadian officials have given little indication that they are eager to lead such a mission, particularly in a country that has a long history of destabilizing foreign interventions and where the idea of such a deployment is divisive. Canada’s top soldier has expressed doubts about whether the military even has the capacity for the task.

Instead, Canada has provided aid, including armored vehicles, to the Haitian National Police and imposed sanctions on Haitian gang leaders and their backers.

The United States has imposed sanctions on far fewer Haitians, a fact that is not lost on Ottawa. Trudeau said last week that other countries, including the United States, needed to do “much more” to penalize those responsible for the chaos in Haiti.

“Outside intervention, as we’ve done in the past, hasn’t worked to create long-term stability for Haiti,” he told reporters.

The Safe Third Country Agreement has long drawn criticism from Canadian migrant advocates.

Asylum seekers and advocacy groups argued before Canada’s Supreme Court in October that the deal violates the right to “life, liberty and security of the person” under Canada’s constitution, because it subjects asylum seekers to possible detention and removal on the U.S. side. It’s unclear when the top court will release its decision.

The new amendments to the agreement will apply to anyone who crosses into either country at an unofficial point and entry and makes “an asylum or other protection claim relating to a fear of persecution or torture” within 14 days. Advocates said the new deal will not deter migrants, but rather push them to pursue more dangerous crossings through dark and marshy woods and fields along the border to avoid detection by authorities.

At Roxham Road, the most popular unofficial crossing, police are stationed around the clock. They briefly detain migrants to register their entry and then release them, making the crossing less perilous.There have been several instances in recent years of migrants dying or sustaining serious injuries from exposure to the cold while attempting to cross the frontier in other areas by foot.

Maureen Silcoff, a Toronto-based immigration and refugee lawyer, called the new deal “a humanitarian crisis in the making.”

“It’s a lose-lose situation,” she said. “The people crossing are going to be in danger. The government of Canada will lose track of who has arrived. And it’s just unworkable … because you just can’t kind of patrol or monitor the entire border.”

Biden was slated to attend a gala dinner at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum on Friday evening, where the entertainment was expected to include Inuit throat singers and an Algonquin drum group from Quebec.

Among the guests are expected to be Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, Canadians who were detained in China in 2018 in what was widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the behest of U.S. authorities who were seeking her extradition on bank and wire fraud charges.

The detention of the “two Michaels,” as they are known here, plunged ties between Ottawa and Beijing into a deep freeze. They were released in 2021, hours after the Huawei executive reached a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that allowed her to return to China in exchange for acknowledging some wrongdoing in the criminal case.

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.