Air Canada apology demanded by national chief
The country's national aboriginal leader says Air Canada should apologize to native people for an internal memo that he says victimized flood evacuees by linking them to increased crime in downtown Winnipeg.
The memo became public after Air Canada decided to stop using the city's downtown hotels for crew layovers because of security concerns.
Air Canada bulletin
Read the airline's internal memo to pilots and flight crew personnel.
Shawn Atleo, head of the Assembly of First Nations, said he agrees with Manitoba chiefs who have called the memo racist.
He said vulnerable flood evacuees, who have been out of their homes since May, deserve more compassion and respect.
"They are exposed to incredible trauma. This memo that came out from the company is clearly targeting those very same people who are victims themselves of an emergency situation," Atleo said in an interview.
"They're people who are already suffering and absolutely should not be treated with anything less than deep respect and concern and [should] not be treated as dangerous people."
Quietly moved crew layovers near airport
Air Canada sparked considerable criticism last week when it quietly moved its crew layovers to hotels closer to the airport.
Winnipeg's mayor suggested the decision was made for financial reasons, but the airline insisted it was due to security concerns.
"Recent environmental issues have forced approximately 1,000 displaced people from rural Manitoba to numerous hotels in the downtown area," said the memo to pilots explaining the decision.
"Instances of public intoxication, resulting in several downtown locations being susceptible to crimes of violence and opportunity, have been observed by local police."
The memo did not specifically mention First Nations people, but the majority of evacuees were from reserves. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said 74 flood refugees remain in downtown Winnipeg and the organization has demanded a retraction from Air Canada.
Air Canada has said it did not mean to offend anyone, but Atleo said that response is nothing more than a start.
The airline should apologize directly to native people and meet with First Nations leaders to repair the damage, he suggested.
"Air Canada plays a really important role in linking some of the most remote First Nation communities around the country. I really think there should be an effort of reconciliation."
No First Nation link intended: official
In a letter responding to Manitoba chiefs, Air Canada's senior vice-president of operations repeated that the airline didn't mean to offend anyone. But he doesn't suggest meeting with chiefs to discuss the matter further.
"As we have previously stated publicly, Air Canada had no intent to, and was not aware that it would, offend First Nation citizens of Manitoba or any other group, and I would like to reiterate our apology for the unfortunate controversy that has resulted from our memo to pilots on Winnipeg accommodation," David Legge wrote.
"The memo to pilots made no mention of First Nations citizens. I assure you that my staff responsible for this communication were not aware of any, and were therefore making no, link between First Nations people and an increased security risk."
Air Canada has shown a great commitment to Canada's First Nations, the letter added. The company actively recruits aboriginal employees and has 35 native pilots, Legge said.
The company will be more careful in the future, he said.
"The matter has been formally reviewed with the individuals responsible for communications to our employees and we can assure you that greater vigilance and sensitivity will be exercised in the future."
Spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline doesn't have any further comment.