Politics

'We'll do what is necessary to keep Canadians safe,' Trudeau says amid U.S.-Canada mask dispute

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he remains engaged in talks with Washington over its move to prioritize U.S. needs for protective medical supplies and ensure it does not impact Canada's supply of the equipment. 

Dispute comes as Canada's top doctor looks at preserving country's existing supply of protective medical gear

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he doesn't want to retaliate against the U.S. for seeking to restrict mask exports, but said he will do what it takes to protect Canadians. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he remains engaged in talks with Washington over its move to prioritize U.S. needs  for protective medical supplies and ensure it does not impact Canada's supply of the equipment. 

"I'm not going to engage in hypotheticals," Trudeau said Sunday, when asked whether he would consider retaliating in response to concerns that Canada could be thwarted in its attempts to shore up its stock of medical masks and other supplies.

"I will say that we'll do what is necessary to keep Canadians safe and we will do it in as constructive a way as possible."

The remarks come a day after Trudeau said he would not take "retaliatory measures or measures that are punitive" in response to the Trump administration's invocation of the Defense Protection Act. 

The act gives the administration the power to ramp up the production and acquisition of critically-needed supplies.

On Friday, Minnesota-based company 3M said that it had been ordered to halt exports of U.S.-made N95 masks to Canada and Latin America.

However, U.S. Trade Adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News later that day that the country would still send "some exports" from U.S. factories to Canada and Mexico.

Nevertheless, Trudeau said he planned to speak to U.S. President Donald Trump directly in the "coming days" about the issue, which comes amid global concern about countries interrupting supply chains to protect their own resources.

Watch: Trudeau 'confident' deal can be reached on medical supplies

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government is working with the American administration amid calls by U.S. President Donald Trump to keep medical supplies in the United States. 1:15

"Conversations continue with the American administration in terms of solving this issue, because as I've said, both sides of the border benefit tremendously [from] the flow back and forth of essential supplies and medical goods and services, and that is the point we're making to the administration," Trudeau said. 

Harsh words from other leaders

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball condemned the U.S. moves Sunday, reflecting on the province taking in stranded Americans in 2001 after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. 

"To say that I'm infuriated with the recent actions of President Trump of the United States is an understatement," Ball said. "I cannot believe for a second, in a time of crisis, that President Trump would even think about banning key medical supplies to Canada."

The comments followed critical remarks from other provincial leaders in recent days, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

"You sit back and you think of your allies, the wars we've gone through. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder fighting the same enemies," Ford said Saturday. "And now we have an enemy and we're at war and they want to shut things down with their closest ally in the world? That's unacceptable."

On Sunday, the Conservative Party of Canada released a statement on behalf of Deputy Leader Leona Alleslev and other party critics.

"Conservatives are deeply concerned with President Trump's direction to companies such as 3M that they are not to supply Canada with critical medical equipment," the statement reads.

"While we support the Government of Canada's efforts to purchase new equipment, with borders closed, supply chains under strain and countries around the world grappling with their own shortages of medical equipment, we believe more needs to be done to protect Canadians."

More surgical masks expected Monday

Trudeau announced this weekend that "millions" of surgical masks and other supplies are set to arrive from China on a chartered cargo plane.

But there are no N95 masks contained in that shipment, a spokesperson from Procurement Minister Anita Anand's office said yesterday.

N95 masks, like the one pictured above, are now at the centre of a conflict between the U.S. and Canada over restrictions to export the equipment. The federal government says it has ordered 65 million of the masks. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Earlier this week, Ottawa announced it had ordered 65 million N95 masks, which provide a higher degree of protection against COVID-19 than the ones coming from China. 

The spokesperson said some of those masks have already arrived, but would not say which countries or manufacturers the equipment came from.

Tam: Canada now looking at disinfecting existing masks

As Canada works to boost its inventory of personal protective equipment, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Sunday that efforts are underway to study how to preserve the country's existing supply.

"We are also looking at other measures, such as how can we disinfect ... or decontaminate masks, how do we best look after the limited supply that we have?"

Tam explained that those efforts include examining "the science of decontamination" to find out what works, and said that the government was seeking out "multiple entities" who could carry out that work.

Watch: Dr. Tam talks about disinfecting masks

Canada's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Theresa Tam, says Canada is looking into how medical masks could be disinfected and re-used to protect the supply. 1:04

"[We are] signalling to provinces and territories that certain things shouldn't be thrown away right now, so that we can...implement this should we find the actual people who can do this," she said. 

Tam continued to advise that masks — including surgical and N95 masks — must be reserved for health care workers and "others providing direct care" to people with the illness.

"Wearing a non-medical mask is an additional measure that we are considering to protect others around you," Tam added, referring to cloth and other homemade varieties. 

Meanwhile, the federal government announced plans Sunday to put more money toward supporting international efforts to tackle the pandemic — including developing a vaccine.

Minister of International Development Karina Gould revealed $159.5 million in aid for the global response to the COVID-19 crisis, which includes $50 million previously committed by Trudeau last month.

Corrections

  • This story has been updated from a previous version that referred to a U.S. government order to ban the export of some medical protective equipment to Canada. In fact, the Trump administration's Defence Production Act order gives it the authority to acquire all the N95 respirators from 3M that it deems appropriate but does not ban their export.
    Apr 05, 2020 7:09 PM ET

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