Ottawa police advisory committee member urges officer's suspension over racist comments

A member of a committee that advises Ottawa police on relations with visible minorities and Indigenous communities says a police sergeant who allegedly posted offensive comments about the death of an acclaimed Inuk artist should be suspended while an internal investigation takes place.

Committee's vice-chair calls for more conciliatory approach based on restorative justice

Aisha Sherazi, a member of Ottawa's community and police action committee, says she was 'shocked' by the comments posted online. (CBC)

A member of a committee that advises Ottawa police on relations with visible minorities and Indigenous communities says a police sergeant who allegedly posted offensive comments about the death of an acclaimed Inuk artist should be suspended while an internal investigation into his actions takes place.

A citizen filed a complaint with Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau on Sunday after reading comments posted on an Ottawa Citizen story about the death of celebrated artist, Annie Pootoogook. The 47-year-old's body was found last week in the Rideau River.  

"Typically many Aboriginals have very short lifespans, talent or not," the commenter wrote.

The same person posted a second comment that characterized Canada's Indigenous community as "just satisfied being alcohol or drug abusers."

The comments came from the Facebook account of Chris Hrnchiar, who the complainant noted appeared to be an Ottawa police sergeant.

'Completely inappropriate and racist'

Aisha Sherazi, a member of the community and police action committee, or COMPAC, said she was shocked over the comments.

"I think they were completely inappropriate and racist," Sherazi said.

In an interview on CBC's Ottawa Morning Thursday, Chief Charles Bordeleau said the comments reflect neither his values nor those of the Ottawa Police Service.

"I'm certainly hearing they are being seen as racist comments," said Bordeleau. "I certainly appreciate and understand how the comments are being received."
COMPAC vice-chair Lynda Kitchikessic-Juden is recommending a conciliatory approach when it comes to dealing with the officer accused of posting racist comments. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

Yesterday Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson described the comments as "offensive and bordering on being racist." 

But Sherazi suggested neither Bordeleau nor Watson went far enough in their condemnation.

"Honestly I think the reality is, two white males can't really speak to the experience of racism and so they are always going to hesitate to call it out," Sherazi said.

Sherazi said she respects Bordeleau and believes "his heart is in the right place," adding the chief is in a "tough spot" because he has to follow due process and carry out an internal investigation.

But she also thinks suspending the officer might go a long way to demonstrate to the community that police recognize how damaging racist comments are.  

"I think these issues coming to light right now, there couldn't be a better time for that to happen because frankly speaking, they exist."

'What can we do to change your attitude?'

But another member of COMPAC, vice-chair Lynda Kitchikessic-Juden, is taking a more conciliatory view.

Kitchikessic-Juden, who for 16 years has represented Ottawa's Indigenous community on COMPAC, cautioned against a knee-jerk reaction to the comments, and urged people to reserve judgement until the investigation is complete.

If the officer is found to have made the comments, Kitchikessic-Juden said based on her cultural values she would recommend restorative justice, such as educating him about the impact of the residential school system on people in her community, rather than punitive measures.
Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau said the online comments reflect neither his values, nor those of the Ottawa Police Service. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"I actually have a lot of compassion as a human being for others,"  said Kitchikessic-Juden. "I'd probably give him a hug and let him know there's no hatred or anger from me on this, and I'd say, 'What can I do to bring you to a better head space?'"

Asked what else she might tell the officer, an emotional Kitchikessic-Juden replied: "We've lost a lot of young women and men in our communities because of attitudes like this. Please, what can we do to change your attitude?"

Kitchikessic-Juden.said she'd like the police officer to consider apologizing to Annie Pootoogook's family while the investigation is ongoing.
Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook in July 2013. Her body was found in the Rideau River on Sept. 19, 2016. (Alexei Kintero)