Ottawa

Ottawa officer demoted for racist comments about Annie Pootoogook

Ottawa police Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar will be demoted to constable for three months and will undergo sensitivity training for making racist online comments about the death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook.

Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar ordered to undergo sensitivity training over remarks about death of Inuk artist

Ottawa police Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar leaves a misconduct hearing last month. He pleaded guilty to charges under the Police Services Act for racist comments posted on social media after the death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Ottawa police Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar will be demoted to constable for three months and will undergo sensitivity training for making racist online comments about the death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook.

Hrnchiar pleaded guilty in November to two counts of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act. One charge relates to knowingly using racist comments and the other centres on commenting about an open investigation.

In September, a few days after Pootoogook's body was identified, Hrnchiar posted from his Facebook account in the comments section of an Ottawa Citizen story that her death "could be a suicide, accidental, she got drunk and fell in the river and drowned, who knows."

In a second post, Hrnchiar wrote "much of the Aboriginal population in Canada is just satisfied being alcohol or drug abusers."

At the time Hrnchiar was the supervisor of the forensic identification detective who was responsible for processing the scene and identifying Pootoogook. She was found dead in the Rideau River on Sept. 19 in what police are investigating as a suspicious death.

Resident Veldon Coburn, who adopted Pootoogook's youngest child, alerted Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau and Mayor Jim Watson about the comments.

Annie Pootoogook, seen here in 2013, was found dead in the Rideau River on Sept. 19, and the case is being treated as suspicious. The Ottawa police major crimes unit is investigating. (Alexei Kintero)

Hearing officer enforces recommended penalty

Hearing officer Terence Kelly handed down Hrnchiar's penalty Wednesday afternoon after acknowledging Pootoogook's family and friends.

In issuing the penalty, Kelly also pointed to Hrnchiar's 30-plus years of exemplary service.

The demotion and order to attend multicultural training was the penalty recommended by Christiane Huneault, the general counsel for the Ottawa Police Service, last month.

Huneault said the penalty should send a clear message that this type of conduct is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

Dialogue with Indigenous community must continue 

After the hearing, Ottawa Police Association head Matt Skof spoke about the goal for police members to hold a bias-neutral mentality.

When asked whether the penalty would help Indigenous communities regain faith in the Ottawa Police Service, Skof said it's an ongoing process.

"Ottawa police dialogue with Indigenous communities must continue and it must evolve," Skof said.

He added that Hrnchiar recognizes the demotion has significance.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Hrnchiar acknowledged to the Ottawa Police Service professional standards section that he posted the comments and recognized "the seriousness of his misconduct." 

"I'm truly sorry for my actions," Hrnchiar said at last month's hearing.

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