Bartley Kives, Montreal Gazette, October 4, 2011
Air Canada has apologized for what the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs called a racist internal memo that suggests First Nations residents displaced by floods are making downtown Winnipeg dangerous.
In a widely circulating memo, Air Canada said it’s pulling flight crews on Winnipeg layovers from downtown’s Radisson hotel to the Sandman hotel near the airport because “several downtown locations” are “susceptible to crimes of violence and opportunity.”
The memo connects the safety situation to the presence of “approximately 1,000 displaced people from rural Manitoba” in hotels near the Radisson.
The memo has already been criticized by Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, the downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone and Air Canada’s pilots association. The mayor has requested Air Canada reverse its decision.
On Monday, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs blasted the memo as racist, requested clarification and an apology. Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said the victims of flooding at Lake St. Martin First Nation and other Interlake communities have suffered enough without being blamed for downtown Winnipeg’s woes.
“It’s entirely inappropriate for one of Canada’s largest corporations to link the presence of our people in the downtown core with any security risk,” Nepinak told reporters, calling the memo racist.
Approximately 700 displaced First Nations residents remain in hotels and another 1,000 are being billeted in homes or apartments, the AMC estimates. Nepinak said many displaced families currently living in hotels would like to leave downtown Winnipeg because it’s not safe for young children.
He said he is aware of a handful of individual displaced people causing problems, but they are no longer in hotels.
Nepinak said an apology from Air Canada would go a long way. He said the AMC is exploring legal options but is not calling for a boycott or any other action until Air Canada clarifies its position.
Two hours after Nepinak met with reporters, Air Canada offered an apology.
“It appears that certain inferences are being drawn from the contents of a recent internal bulletin relating to accommodation for flight crews on overnight layover in Winnipeg,” spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said via email.
“Air Canada wishes to state categorically it had no intent to cause offence to any individual or group and apologizes if it inadvertently did so.”