Skip to main content

Indigenous leaders in Labrador are condemning an incident on a provincial flight this week when passengers accused two men of making racist remarks.

PAL Airlines says it has indefinitely banned two passengers from future flights for making what the company calls “hurtful and derogatory remarks” towards people on a flight from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to St. John’s on Monday.

Former Labrador MP Peter Penashue was one of several passengers who posted about the incident on social media. He said he was sitting behind the two men, who called an Inuk man a racial slur and mocked an Innu woman for speaking her language.

“I can’t change people but I will call you on your racist views,” Penashue wrote in a Twitter post.

The airline responded the next day, confirming the incident and saying in a statement it was “deeply troubled” by the remarks.

“We have a proud history of partnership with Indigenous groups in Labrador and will work closely with our partners and communities to ensure our flights remain a welcoming environment for all our customers,” the statement read.

Crown corporation Nalcor Energy said Wednesday that the two men will not return to work at a renovation site in the Labrador town of Churchill Falls. It said in a statement that the two men are sub-contractors of Enercon Builders, a company contracted by Nalcor in Churchill Falls.

“Nalcor has advised Enercon that it is enforcing its respectful workplace policy, and the individuals identified are not permitted to work at the Churchill Falls site,” a Nalcor statement read.

Johannes Lampe, president of the Nunatsiavut Inuit government, called the incident “troubling and disturbing” and thanked the airline for its quick response.

NunatuKavut Community Council President Todd Russell also expressed disappointment over what he called a “vile” situation. In a statement, he thanked the airline and passengers who shared the incident on social media.

“We are united in solidarity with our Inuit cousins in Nunatsiavut, other Indigenous groups and all those who stand against any and all forms of racism and violence,” Russell’s statement read.

In an interview with CBC Radio on Tuesday, Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich said the “unacceptable” incident speaks to discriminatory experiences Indigenous people face regularly.

“It’s a daily encounter,” Rich said. “When these kind of remarks are made toward the Innu or Inuit, it builds up anger.”

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball also commented on the incident in a Twitter post Wednesday morning, saying he condemns all acts of racism.

“This behaviour is unacceptable. We will continue our work and call out racism,” the premier’s tweet read.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Interact with The Globe