Author: Stephen Smith
An immigrant-run Canadian clothing company is taking on U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again!” baseball cap with a toque proclaiming “Welcome to Canada.”
The toque — a Canadian term for a knitted winter hat — is bright red like the cap made famous by Trump and has “Welcome to Canada” embroidered in the same white lettering as the “Make America Great Again!” slogan.
But that’s about as far as their similarities go, Toronto’s Peace Collective clothing company says.
Co-founder Roman Hessary told CIC News that his company sees the so-called MAGA hat as a symbol “of hate, of discrimination.”
“We don’t for a second think all Americans share these values, but it’s an issue, and an immigration issue,” he told CIC News. “We’re taking a stand against that and hoping to turn it into something more positive.”
In an Instagram post, Peace Collective said the toque sends a counter-message of “love and acceptance.”
Hessary and his family came to Canada as refugees from Afghanistan and his partners in Peace Collective are also either first- or second-generation Canadians.
“We found safe refuge in Canada — my parents built a life for us here and gave us a lot of advantages that maybe other kids back in Afghanistan didn’t have, so I’m super appreciative,” he said. “That’s why this campaign really hits home.”
A video for the toque campaign promotes the hashtag #UnravelHate and shows a MAGA hat having its slogan unstitched thread by thread. The stitching is then recycled to spell “Welcome to Canada” on a red toque.
A group of immigrants and refugees to Canada reflect in the video on the meaning of the MAGA hat and what living in Canada means to them.
“Make America Great Again,” Ugandan immigrant Victor says, staring at the red hat in his hands. “What you’re telling me is in order for this to be great again, you have to kick out a bunch of people and build up walls to keep people out.”
“Greatness does not come from insulting other people,” offers Aorwa, a Syrian refugee.
Cori, an American who left the U.S. with her same-sex partner, said she came to Canada to escape what she felt was “an impending backlash” against them.
“The MAGA hat is definitely a dividing line of us versus them… it represents anger and fear and hatred.”
Of the toque, she says it “represents acceptance and peace and hope.”
Hessary said reactions to the campaign have so far been “99 per cent positive” and he’s not worried by the possibility of backlash from Trump supporters.
He doesn’t want to alienate anyone, Hessary said, but he does hope the campaign sparks an open dialogue on issues like immigration.
“I’m not saying Canada is perfect — I know there are improvements that can be made. As long as we’re having that conversation, good things can come out of it,” he said.
“We’re all global citizens and we should focus on our similarities.”
The one-of-a-kind toque made from the MAGA hat threads is being auctioned on eBay. The profits from the auction and sale of all “Welcome to Canada” toques will be donated to a community organization in Toronto that provides settlement services for new refugees and immigrants.