Manitoba’s First Nation chiefs will boycott Air Canada for six months over an internal memo implying that aboriginals displaced by flooding were compromising public safety in downtown Winnipeg.
The memo, which became public in late September, was a notice to pilots and crew that their layovers would be moved to a hotel closer to the airport rather than kept downtown, where they’ve been staying for years.
“Recent environmental issues have forced approximately 1,000 displaced people from rural Manitoba to numerous hotels in the downtown area,” the missive said. “Instances of public intoxication, resulting in several downtown locations being susceptible to crimes of violence and opportunity, have been observed by local Police.”
It informed employees that from then on, they’d be put up elsewhere. First Nations chiefs immediately chastised the airline, given that the rural evacuees are aboriginal, forced off their reserves in May by flooding and unable to return.
“Our greatest concern,” Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, in an October 17 statement, “is that Air Canada’s irresponsible remarks have created a situation where First Nation people, driven from their homes, are now being held responsible for the crime in downtown Winnipeg. It is time that business leaders realize that they have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens and be mindful of their social obligations.”
The statement was released jointly by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) and the Southern Chiefs Organization after a Chiefs Assembly at Brokenhead First Nation, where they voted on October 13 to initiate the boycott.
“We call on Air Canada executives to meet with the Grand Chiefs of Manitoba to seek solutions to address the irresponsible presumption that rural First Nations people are the root cause of crime in downtown Winnipeg,” said MKO Grand Chief David Harper in the joint statement. “The memo was hurtful to First Nations people, and raises concerns about a company that has a reputation for its high standard of professional conduct and service.
Grand Chief Morris Swan-Shannacappo of the Southern Chiefs Organization echoed the sentiments.
"It is irresponsible of Air Canada to point a finger at a minority group like Manitoba First Nations that had no alternative but to seek refuge in the City of Winnipeg due to their homelands being inundated with flood waters,” he said. “It serves no purpose to target and blame the First Nation evacuees for crime issues in Winnipeg to fuel further public perception on the high crime rate issue."
The AMC said it will invite Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, to join the boycott. Atleo has already called publicly for Air Canada to apologize. The chiefs also plan to seek legal advice over potential further action, their statement said.