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Air Canada Pulls Ad Offensive To Indians

May 7, 1996

TORONTO (AP) _ Under threat of a boycott by Canadian Indians, Air Canada apologized for insensitivity Tuesday and withdrew an advertisement depicting a spear-wielding chief in traditional dress riding in business class.

``Sitting Comfortabull,″ says the ad, part of a campaign that Canada’s No. 1 airline had been running in Europe. The ad also shows a teepee and says: ``Business chiefs get more moccasin room″ on Air Canada.

The leader of the national assembly of Canadian Indian chiefs, Ovide Mercredi, had threatened to call for an airline boycott if there was no apology.

And even though the ad has been pulled, Mercredi indicated he was still pushing for the airline to fire the agency that produced the ad and to provide a racial sensitivity course for its senior executives.

He also said he was considering filing a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The ad, which appeared last month in the magazine supplement of the weekly newspaper The European, shows an overweight white man with a briefcase sitting in an executive-class seat. Behind him is an Indian chief dressed in ceremonial clothing, holding a spear.

``This ad campaign is denigrating and pulls down our culture,″ Mercredi said. ``It also reinforces the racist stereotype that Indians are lazy. It’s not just a crass way of using our symbols but it leaves the impression that we lead lives of leisure.″

He also criticized the ad’s pun on the name of Sitting Bull, a famous leader of the Sioux Indians in the United States.

Kym Robertson, a spokeswoman for Air Canada, said the airline agreed that the ad was insensitive, had apologized and had ordered it withdrawn.

``We were very, very distressed to learn that the ad was interpreted as denigrating to natives,″ Robertson said. ``It was never our intention for it to be taken that way.″

She declined to say whether McCann-Erickson, the agency which created it, would be dropped by the airline. She also said Air Canada had no immediate comment on Mercredi’s claim that its record of hiring aboriginals was among the worst of any major Canadian corporation.

Robertson said the ad was part of a broader campaign in Britain, France and Germany that has been running for the past three years.

``This ad is not meant for a North American audience,″ she said. ``In essence, we’re selling our product in Canada abroad and we’re using very readily identifiable images in those markets.″

She said other ads featured mountains, fishermen and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

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