Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar pleads guilty to making racist comments about Annie Pootoogook

An Ottawa police officer with 30 years of experience pleads guilty to making racist online comments about the death of a prominent Inuk artist.

Prominent Inuk artist was found dead in the Rideau River on Sept. 19

Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar leaves his misconduct hearing at an Ottawa police station on Tuesday. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

An Ottawa police officer with 30 years of experience has pleaded guilty to making racist online comments about the death of a prominent Inuk artist earlier this fall.

Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar entered the plea at a police hearing in Ottawa Tuesday morning.

He had been charged with two counts of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act after making comments about Annie Pootoogook. One charge relates to knowingly using racist comments and the other centres on commenting about an open investigation.

Pootoogook was found dead in the Rideau River on Sept. 19 in what police are investigating as a suspicious death.

I'm truly sorry for my actions.— Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar

A few days after her body was identified, Hrnchiar posted from his Facebook account in the comment 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 of processing the scene and identifying Pootoogook.

A member of the public, Veldon Coburn, alerted Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau and Mayor Jim Watson about the comments.

Demotion recommended

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 the hearing on Tuesday. 

Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, said Hrnchiar wanted to apologize from the beginning, but the hearing process had to play out. 

"It's been very difficult. It's been difficult on his family, it's been difficult on himself. And he's realized of course, all the way throughout, how troubling and damaging the comments have been," he said.

"He's a good officer."

Skof said this incident is "obviously" not reflective of the Ottawa police as a whole. He wouldn't say why Hrnchiar made the comments in the first place.

Annie Pootoogook works on her art in Ottawa in 2013. She was found dead in the Rideau River on Sept. 19. (Alexei Kintero)

Christiane Huneault, general counsel for the Ottawa Police Service, has recommended Hrnchiar be demoted for three months and attend multicultural training, adding the penalty should send a clear message that this type of conduct is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

Hrnchiar has accepted the recommendation, but the sentence hasn't been rendered.

Skof said he understands not everyone will be satisfied with the severity of the recommendations.

"This concept of discussions being within the community that may be affected, that's always more beneficial. There's more benefit to that as as opposed to just leveraging a financial fine," he said.

He will be back on Dec. 7 when retired York Region police deputy chief Terence Kelly, who heard the proceeding, 
will present his decision on penalty.

Hrnchiar has continued to work for the police service throughout this process.