Police officer demoted for posting racist comments about Annie Pootoogook on Facebook
An Ottawa police sergeant will be demoted First Class Constable for three months and required to attend multicultural training as punishment for posting racist comments online about the death of an Indigenous artist.
Chris Hrnchiar pleaded guilty to two counts of discreditable conduct under the Ontario Police Services Act in November, for using insulting language about race and ethnic origin and publicly commenting on an open investigation into the death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook.
The officer’s actions “were clearly inappropriate and an embarrassment to the Ottawa Police Service,” said Retired Deputy Chief Terrence Kelly, the hearing officer, at the sentencing on Wednesday, the Ottawa Citizen reported.
“Sgt. Hrnchiar used his position as a police officer to release racist comments and information on his personal Facebook account with regard to the tragic death of Annie Pootoogook, a member of the Inuit community,” Kelly said.
Pootoogook’s body was found in the Rideau River on September 19. While police initially didn’t suspect any foul play, a few days later, they revealed that they were investigating “elements” of the death that “suspicious.”
Commenting on a Citizen article, Hrnchiar dismissed Pootoogook’s death as “not a murder case.”
“It could be a suicide, accidental, she got drunk and fell in the river and drowned who knows,” he wrote. “Typically many Aboriginals have very short lifespans, talent or not.”
In a second post, he added: “Because much of the aboriginal population in Canada is just satisfied being alcohol or drug abusers, living in poor conditions etc… They have to have the will to change, it’s not society’s fault.”
At the time, Hrnchiar was supervisor to the forensic identification detective tasked with processing the scene and identifying Pootoogook.
Kelly, who handed down the penalty recommended by the Ottawa Police Service’s general counsel Christiane Huneault last month, acknowledged Hrnchiar’s 30 year of “exemplary” service, said the penalty should send a clear message to the service that his conduct was unacceptable.
He also said the officer’s guilty plea and apology to Pootoogook’s family were taken into consideration.
Cover: Photo by Justin Tang/The Canadian Press