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Ms. Trump and Trudeau: Unlikely pair take in a show celebrating openness

The musical 'Come From Away,' tells the true story of a small Canadian town that took in airline passengers after the attacks on September 11.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets the cast of the Broadway musical 'Come From Away,' in New York on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. Mr. Trudeau, along with first daughter Ivanka Trump, have welcomed a new musical that celebrates Canadian compassion following 9/11.
Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/AP | Caption

On Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went to a Broadway show and invited an unexpected guest to come along with him: first daughter Ivanka Trump. The musical, "Come From Away," is based on a true story of acceptance and generosity toward foreigners: Americans whose flights were redirected to the small town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada, on Sept. 11, 2001.

Ms. Trump is the daughter of, and a close adviser to, President Trump, who built his candidacy on the promise to build a wall on the Mexican border and who has issued two executive orders in an attempt to ban immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries – in many ways a contrast to Canada's policies toward refugees and immigrants.

But the Canadian government has walked a fine line in building a relationship with the new US administration. 

"The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves," Mr. Trudeau said last month, during his first meeting with the new president, when asked if he supported the executive order on travel.

On Sept. 11, flights still in the air following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon found themselves with nowhere to go as US airspace shut down. The town of Gander had a small international airport that was able to accommodate many of the planes, and the town of about 11,000 found itself helping almost 7,000 passengers from dozens of wide-body transatlantic jets.

The hotel space in Gander was inadequate for the massive influx of guests, so residents put up most of the passengers in their own homes. Even the town's bus drivers, who had been on strike that day, went back to work to help the disoriented and frequently scared visitors, according to Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak.

The people of Gander are still well remembered by those who were taken in that day, and the new musical celebrates their generosity.

"The world gets to see what it is to lean on each other and be there for each other through the darkest times," said Trudeau in brief remarks before the show.

"There is no relationship quite like the friendship between Canada and the United States," he added, according to The New York Times. "This story, this amazing show, is very much about that, and it's about friendship as well."

While US leadership has made attempts to keep refugees from entering the US, Canada's rhetoric around refugees has been far more accepting. In the past few years, its decades-old private sponsorship program that pays for a refugee family's financial and emotional needs for a year has helped half of the roughly 40,000 Syrian refugees coming to Canada find a new home.

But Trudeau has avoided explicitly contrasting the two neighbors' attitudes toward immigration.

"To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada," he tweeted in January, in the wake of the implementation of the now-blocked US travel ban against travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Messages of acceptance and neighborliness were reflected by several actors, as well.

"When do we have the opportunity to share a story about kindness, gratitude and love that takes place in a country that is known for opening their hearts to people," said actor Rodney Hicks. "It just meant the world to all of us."

The plot of the show, which was written and composed by Canadian couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein, includes a gay couple worrying about acceptance, a black man with concerns that he will be seen as threatening, and Muslims who feel ashamed for being scrutinized in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. But despite the political nature of many of the issues presented in the show – or perhaps because of them – the actors received an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end of the play.

Standing with them was Trump, who was seen clapping along during the curtain call.

"Our friends are there for those tough times, when you lose a parent or a loved one, when you get knocked off your path at a difficult moment in your life. Where you go through difficult times, that's when you turn and you lean on your friends," said Trudeau. "That ultimately is what this story is all about – being there for each other."

This article contains material from the Associated Press.

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