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'Indeed racist': Inuit want Ottawa police to suspend sergeant over online comments

'When a police officer who is suppose to be protecting us makes these remarks, it's a very big hindrance for reconciliation,' says Sytukie Joamie, a cousin of Annie Pootoogook.

‘It’s very odd and disturbing that the Ottawa chief of police cannot discipline his own’

Annie Pootoogook. 'It's very odd and disturbing that the Ottawa chief of police cannot discipline his own,' says Sytukie Joamie one of Annie Pootoogook cousins. (Alexei Kintero/Annie Pootoogook/National Gallery of Canada/Dorset Fine Arts)

It's not good enough for Ottawa police chief Charles Bordeleau to say officers are human beings with biases and not suspend the sergeant who allegedly posted racist online comments about the death of Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook, say many Inuit.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Thursday, Bordeleau refused to call the comments racist.

"They are indeed racist," says Sytukie Joamie, a cousin of Pootoogook. 

In an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Chief Charles Bordeleau refused to call the comments racist. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The fact that these comments appeared online, open to everyone, including young people, makes the act even more troubling, says Joamie.

"It's very difficult when somebody in authority does that and does not think of the consequences."

The officer remains on active duty, Bordeleau told Ottawa Morning Thursday, adding he doesn't believe making racist comments is an offence that requires firing. 

Joamie says if someone who worked for an Inuit organization made a racist comment, they would be suspended until a disciplinary hearing.

"It's very odd and disturbing that the Ottawa chief of police cannot discipline his own."  

'Like we're nothing'

The two racist comments were posted from the Facebook account of Chris Hrnchiar, who appears to be an Ottawa police sergeant. They were spotted last weekend under an Ottawa Citizen article about the death of Annie Pootoogook, a celebrated Inuk artist whose body was found in the Rideau River last week.

Anirniq Aningmiuq, one of Pootoogook's cousin’s, shares a quiet moment of grief. 'It’s heartbreaking,' she says. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

The comments, which have since been erased, questioned the validity of investigating Pootoogook's death, stating "Aboriginals have very short lifespans." It characterized the Indigenous community as made up of drug and alcohol abusers. 

"When a police officer who is suppose to be protecting us makes these remarks it's a very big hindrance for reconciliation," said Joamie.

"It's heartbreaking," said Anirniq Aningmiuq another one of Pootoogook's cousins, in Inuktitut.

"It feels as if we're treated like we're nothing," she added. 

Twitter also lit up with reactions from Inuit to the police chief's interview, with many people outraged by his lack of action.

Independent investigation needed

Elisapee Sheutiapik, the president of the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council, says the situation speaks to some of the challenges that Indigenous women face in Canada every day.

'Obviously the police have a huge part in this — they are the professionals that families rely on to investigate these cases,' says Qulliit's Elisapee Sheutiapik. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

"We have issues, we really do," said Sheutiapik.

She notes the irony of this case coming to light during the same month that the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls began its work.

"Obviously the police have a huge part in this — they are the professionals that families rely on to investigate these cases."

Sheutiapik said she's hopeful the inquiry will educate Canadians about systemic racism and the importance of respecting Indigenous lives. 

'For Annie's sake I hope everything turns out well,' says Sytukie Joamie. (submitted by Sytukie Joamie)

For now she urges the Ottawa police chief to pay closer attention to the voices of Indigenous groups and take swift action to discipline his staff.

Meanwhile, Joamie hopes for a speedy resolution.

"For Annie's sake I hope everything turns out well," he says, "It's a long process for her family."

He says under normal circumstances Pootoogook would have been buried by now.

"Because of everything that is going on she's still in the morgue — it's tiring — but hopefully we have a constructive ending to all of this."

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.

with files from Jordan Konek and Elyse Skura