Chiefs use no-fly tactic


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The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will forge ahead with a boycott of Air Canada, sending the airline deeper into hot water over a leaked internal memo.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/10/2011 (4183 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will forge ahead with a boycott of Air Canada, sending the airline deeper into hot water over a leaked internal memo.

The AMC, which represents 59 First Nations, will urge all its members and supporters to stay off Air Canada flights until next spring in the wake of the memo, which surfaced earlier this month. The memo pointed a finger at safety concerns linked to “approximately 1,000 displaced people from rural Manitoba” living in downtown hotels as a reason why Air Canada crews would no longer stay at the downtown Radisson Hotel.

Although the memo did not specify it was referring to evacuees from flooded First Nations, most observers agreed there was little doubt which group was being identified. When the memo leaked, AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak called it a “display of ignorance” and demanded an apology.

The AMC ordered the six-month boycott at a meeting in Brokenhead last week after agreeing that the airline had failed to respond to its concerns. “The lack of appropriate response requires more direct action to be taken by our First Nations and the public and therefore a call for the boycott is necessary,” Nepinak said in a statement Monday.

“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 AMC is also asking Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, to throw his weight behind the boycott, an endorsement that would give the campaign national legs. Atleo was travelling Monday and unavailable for comment.

An Air Canada spokesman declined to comment Monday on the boycott. Instead, he referred reporters to an Oct. 6 letter to AMC chiefs, signed by Air Canada senior vice-president Capt. David Legge. The letter stated the company “had no intent to, and was not aware that it would” offend First Nations and apologized “for the unfortunate controversy that has resulted” from the memo.

The AMC said in addition to the boycott, it would continue to look at legal options for responding to the memo. Earlier this month, Winnipeg-based human rights lawyer David Matas told the Free Press it’s possible the memo could be seen as inciting hatred, albeit not because First Nations are offended.

The test of inciting hatred is whether other people act as a result. The fact comment sections on Winnipeg media websites filled up with anti-aboriginal sentiment since the memo was publicized lends credence to the incitement argument, Matas said.

The AMC announcement did leave open a path to reconciliation. Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper called on Air Canada executives to meet with chiefs “to address the irresponsible presumption that rural First Nations people are the root cause of crime in downtown Winnipeg.”

— with files from Bartley Kives

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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