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Manitoba MP upset after aboriginal women denied flight

Gail and Joyce Nepinak were supposed to be in Ottawa for House of Commons committee hearing

CBC News

A Manitoba MP is crying discrimination after two aboriginal women were not allowed to board a plane with her, even though they had tickets.

Niki Ashton, who represents the Churchill riding for the NDP, said Gail and Joyce Nepinak were scheduled to fly to Ottawa from Winnipeg with her on Sunday evening.

The Nepinaks had been invited by the House of Commons to speak at the special committee on missing and murdered indigenous women on Monday.

It is the first time the committee will hear from families.

The Nepinaks were to be one of six families testifying. Tanya Nepinak — Gail's sister and Joyce's daughter — went missing from Winnipeg in September 2011 and has never been found. She was 31.

Though her remains have not been located, police have said they believe they may be buried somewhere in the Brady Road landfill.

Winnipeg police had charged Shawn Lamb with second-degree murder in connection with Nepinak's death, but that charge was stayed last month.

Gail and Joyce don't have driver's licences or any other government-issued ID, which is required by airlines for passengers to board.

Air Canada would not accept the Nepinaks' health cards, bank cards, their electronic boarding passes, a House of Commons invitation, or even Ashton vouching for them.

Ashton asked to speak to an Air Canada manager but one never showed up.

She said that in many ways this situation is symbolic of the systemic discrimination aboriginal people face in so many areas of their daily lives.

The Nepinaks were embarrassed, she added.

'Have a heart,' says woman's sister

Gail Nepinak told CBC News she believes racism prevented her from telling federal politicians about the impact her sister's disappearance has had on her family.

"I was mad. I was ready to, like, tell them, 'At least have a heart, you know?'" she said Monday.

Nepinak said she has never flown in an airplane before, and all she had with her was a health card.

"I felt so let down. You know, they don't see, like, aboriginal people taking airplanes," she said, sobbing.

The House of Commons should share some of the blame for what happened, Ashton said. Officials should have made sure the Nepinaks had proper ID before the tickets were booked.

On Monday, Air Canada sent a statement to CBC News, saying it was simply following the rules.

Statement from Air Canada

"While this situation unfortunately caused inconvenience for these customers, we were simply complying with the law.

Transport Canada regulations for passengers on all Canadian airlines are very clear and require one piece of government-issued photo ID with name, DOB and gender or two pieces of government-issued non-photo ID (at least one of which must include DOB and gender).

The customers were not able to provide this and while a manager was consulted and involved in the decision, it was not possible to break the law.

We are regularly audited by Transport Canada to ensure we are complying with the law and we face fines if we are found to be non-compliant.

In cases where customers do not possess the requisite ID, we may be able to make special accommodations but it requires pre-approval, which is not possible at the last minute at the gate.

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