Air Canada stands by Winnipeg hotel move reasons

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz says the head of Air Canada told him a decision to stop placing flight staff in downtown hotels was done more for business reasons, not out of concern for crews' safety.

Air Canada is disputing comments by Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz that suggest the airline has changed its stated reasons for moving its flight crews out of a downtown hotel.

Air Canada pilots and flight crews are no longer staying at a downtown Winnipeg hotel due to safety concerns in the area, according to a leaked internal memo. ((Todd Korol/Reuters))

Katz said he spoke with Air Canada president Calin Rovinescu by phone on Wednesday about an internal bulletin advising pilots and flight staff that they would no longer be staying at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Winnipeg due to "questionable safety in the area."

The bulletin said local police have observed "instances of public intoxication, resulting in several downtown locations being susceptible to crimes of violence and opportunity."

Katz said Rovinescu told him Air Canada's decision was actually more business-related — the airline had considered several downtown hotels, but it could not reach a deal with any of them.

"I believe that if they could've basically gotten a downtown Winnipeg hotel under their terms and conditions, they would have stayed in the downtown," Katz told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

But Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick told CBC News that Katz was "explicitly" told "that the decision to relocate from the downtown hotel previously used by Air Canada was not in any way based on financial considerations."

"The safety and security of our employees was the sole factor in this decision," Fitzpatrick stated in an email later Wednesday afternoon.

Decision subject to review

Air Canada now has a contract with the Sandman Hotel and Suites, a hotel near the local airport, but Katz said the airline will consider coming back downtown in the future.

The Radisson Hotel is on Portage Avenue and Smith Street in downtown Winnipeg. Air Canada flight staff are now staying at a hotel close to the local airport. ((CBC))

Fitzpatrick said while Air Canada's decision "is subject to future review," he added that "the security and safety of our employees will not be compromised."

Katz said he told Rovinescu that the comments made in the Air Canada bulletin about safety in downtown Winnipeg were inappropriate and have damaged the city's reputation.

"I basically very specifically stated that it definitely painted our city in a negative manner. I'm not happy with that in any way, shape or form," Katz said.

The airline's internal note, which was issued late last month but leaked last week, refers to "displaced" people from rural Manitoba who were forced to relocate to the downtown core due to "recent environmental issues."

It was unclear whether the bulletin was referring to residents of rural areas affected by flooding in the province earlier this summer.

Chiefs, university demand reversal

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has accused the airline of being racist because it was negatively characterizing flood victims, a number of whom are displaced First Nations people.

Three provincial aboriginal organizations are seeking an official retraction from Air Canada, according to the assembly.

University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy is also calling on Air Canada to reverse its decision and give a "full and unequivocal apology."

"The implications that the Radisson Hotel is no longer safe … is unfair and inaccurate, with the obvious reference to the First Nations flood-evacuated children, youth and their families," Axworthy wrote in an open letter to Rovinescu and Air Canada board chairman David I. Richardson.

Katz said for now, he would like to move on and focus on getting Air Canada to return downtown in the future.