Ottawa

Annie Pootoogook's cousin shocked by allegations of racist comments by officer

Chief of police investigating complaint about comments allegedly by an officer that the Ottawa mayor says are "offensive and bordering on being racist."

Comments allegedly posted by officer 'offensive and bordering on being racist,' says Ottawa mayor

Kilatja Simeonie says the death of her cousin, Annie Pootoogook, has shaken Ottawa's Inuit community. (CBC)

Kilatja Simeonie said she remembers hearing police had changed their minds and decided to investigate further "suspicious elements" in the death of her cousin, Annie Pootoogook.

"We were overwhelmed about that because we didn't know it was suspicious," said Simeonie, who heard the news on the radio, "and of course I started crying right then and there in my apartment."

But now, allegations a police officer may have been the author of derogatory comments about Pootoogook's death — comments Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said "border on racism" — have brought out a new emotion: anger.

"I feel that it sounded so racist about Aboriginal people," she said after reading the comments for herself.

Pootoogook's body was found on Sept. 19 in the Rideau River near Bordeleau Park.

Gatineau resident Veldon Coburn launched a complaint with the police this week after reading comments below an Ottawa Citizen story about Pootoogook's death and found two that seemed to come from the Facebook account of Ottawa Police Sergeant Chris Hrnchiar.

Coburn said the comments were "troubling for the overt racism of the text."

Comments were 'unbelievable'

One comment stated: "It's not a murder case," and speculated Pootoogook could have "got drunk and fell in the river and drowned. Who knows, typically many aboriginal's have short life spans, talent or not."

Simeonie said the comment is astounding, since she and other family members have been concerned police may not try hard enough to get to the bottom of her cousin's death.

"It's so unbelievable that he said it's not a murder. Right away all of us knew it was more than that."

The death of the 47-year-old artist, originally from Cape Dorset, Nunavut has reverberated throughout Ottawa's Inuit community, said Simeonie.

The issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women has touched a lot of lives, she said.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said the comments posted are 'offensive and bordering on being racist' and inappropriate if they are found to have been posted by a police officer. (CBC)
"I had a flashback 'cause my other aunt was also found in the river in Yellowknife, and it really hit me when I heard about Annie also being found in the river."

Language 'offensive and verging on racist' says mayor

Mayor Jim Watson was asked about the investigation into the comments Tuesday.

"I'm glad the chief is investigating and [I'll] allow him to do the work," said Watson. "Obviously if it is a police officer some of the language in that tweet was offensive and bordering on being racist and it's not appropriate."

Bordeleau has stated there will be an investigation into the complaint. It could lead to a mediated settlement between the officer and Coburn, or it could lead to a charge in the Police Act of discreditable conduct. 

Both Coburn and Simeonie hope there will be some discussion within the police service about dealing with a perception of racism when it comes to the handling of cases involving Indigenous women. 

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