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AFN Chief Demands Air Canada Apology for Memo with Racist Overtones

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said that Air Canada should issue a more formal apology for an internal memo announcing that due to safety concerns near where rural flood evacuees were housed in downtown Winnipeg, personnel layovers would be moved closer to the airport.
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Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo has joined the rising chorus of calls for an official apology from Air Canada executives for a memo containing racist inferences against aboriginals.

The internal document, leaked to the public at the end of September, states that "questionable safety in the area surrounding the Radisson Hotel in downtown Winnipeg" due to flood evacuees living in area hotels had prompted a security assessment, which lead the airline to move its layover accommodations closer to the airport. The memo was sent out to personnel to inform them of the venue change.

“Recent environmental issues have forced approximately 1,000 displaced people from rural Manitoba to numerous hotels in the downtown area. 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 stated.

“They are exposed to incredible trauma," Atleo told the Canadian Press of the evacuees. "This memo that came out from the company is clearly targeting those very same people who are victims themselves of an emergency situation. 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.”

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) first took issue with the September 23 memo, and several others have followed suit, including Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, University of Winnipeg President Lloyd Axworthy, which is located downtown, and even the pilots union, which says that their contract is violated by the move, according to CBC News. The owner of the Radisson is also offended.

Essentially homeless since May, when they were forced out by spring flooding, members of the Peguis, Ebb and Flow, and other First Nations are struggling to arrange schooling and are looking for more consolidated interim housing while they rebuild on their reserves. Only 74 First Nations people are being housed in downtown hotels, the AMC said, out of a total 2,115 scattered throughout the city in hotels, apartments and other accommodations. And the few who had proved troublesome had been long since evicted, Nepinak told reporters.

Meanwhile Air Canada, although it responded by letter to the AMC, said that its mention was not alluding to aboriginals.

“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,” wrote spokesman David Legge, according to the Canadian Press. “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.”

He pointed to Air Canada's track record of actively recruiting aboriginal employees, as well as its 35 Native pilots. Atleo and others have asked for a meeting with First Nations leaders to make amends, but Legge said that company officials had no such plans.