Ottawa

Ottawa police investigate complaint that officer posted racist comments about Inuk artist

A complaint alleging that an Ottawa police officer posted racist comments about Indigenous people and the death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook is under investigation.

'Overt racism' alleged in online comments following death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook

Police confirm a chief's complaint has been filed into the allegation an officer posted racist comments about Indigenous people. (CBC)

A complaint alleging that an Ottawa police officer posted racist comments about Indigenous people and the death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook is under investigation.

Gatineau, Que., resident Veldon Coburn made the complaint Sunday night after he noticed two comments on an Ottawa Citizen article about the death of Pootoogook, a celebrated Inuk artist whose body was found in the Rideau River last week.

The comments, which Coburn noted were "troubling for the overt racism of the text" were posted from the Facebook account of Chris Hrnchiar, who Coburn noted appeared to be an Ottawa police sergeant. Coburn called this "distressing."

Coburn shared his emailed complaint with CBC News, as well as a response from Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau, who said his staff would follow up.

An Ottawa police spokesperson confirmed Tuesday that the force is aware of a complaint involving online comments by an Ottawa police member, that a chief's complaint was filed and that an investigation is underway.

Police refused to comment further.

Annie Pootoogook, seen here working on her art in 2013, was found dead last week in the Rideau River. (Alexei Kintero)

Comments 'beyond the pale'

In one comment posted early Saturday morning, the commenter dismissed Pootoogook's death as "not a murder case," even though the major crimes is investigating and police have said there are suspicious elements to the case.

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

Coburn questioned why an Ottawa police officer would make such definitive public statements on the cause of death.

The commenter wrote a second post that same morning in which he characterized Canada's Indigenous community as "just satisfied being alcohol or drug abusers."

Both comments have since been deleted from the Ottawa Citizen's online story.

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau was emailed Sunday about the alleged comments by one of his police officers. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

'Simply unbecoming of an officer'

In an interview with CBC News on Tuesday, Coburn said that while he holds the Ottawa police force in "high regard," it's "simply unbecoming of an officer who wears a uniform to post such comments."

"[Police] hold a particularly privileged position in the administration of justice. And I wouldn't want anyone to hold these particular sentiments, but somebody with this privileged position? It's simply beyond the pale for me," Coburn said.

He added: "... We know of the troubles of policing and Indigenous women, the missing and murdered Indigenous women's national inquiry ... that this is an issue that they must address. Racist sentiments, holding Indigenous women in low regard, is one of the reasons I hope they'll explore [these comments] quite closely."

Coburn is part of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation in Golden Lake, Ont., and his children are of Algonquin and Inuit descent. He researches race issues in Canada as well as human rights.

Veldon Coburn sent a complaint to Ottawa's mayor and chief of police when he noticed what appeared to be racist online comments posted from the Facebook account of an Ottawa police officer. (CBC)

'You would expect an unbiased approach'

"It's particularly problematic when an officer is commenting on an ongoing investigation ... and making derogatory comments, and leading us to believe that [Pootoogook's death is] not worth pursuing in the way that we would hope that the Ottawa Police Service [would]," Coburn said.

"You would expect neutrality, you would expect an unbiased approach. ... It doesn't matter if you come from the Somali community, or First Nations, the Inuit community. Everyone is entitled to equal concern and respect for the law."

"I'm particularly troubled that an officer, either past or present, would harbour these racist views," Coburn wrote in his complaint to the mayor and chief of police. "It puts into question all involvement such an officer had in the administration of justice, especially cases that involved Indigenous people."

"I could list a dozen reasons why the statements that were posted are beyond the pale. What is striking is that they were posted to defile the character of one of Canada's dearest artistic treasures and to dismiss the efforts to address missing and murdered Indigenous women," he wrote.​