Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Ottawa December 08, 2016 - 11:45 am

Ottawa police officer sentenced for racist comments about Nunavut artist

"If not for the guilty pleas and the apologies... I would consider a greater penalty"

COURTNEY EDGAR
After accepting a guilty plea for two counts of discreditable conduct from Ottawa police Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar, Deputy police chief Terence Kelly, presiding over a disciplinary hearing, handed the officer a temporary demotion and ordered him to take cultural sensitivity training.
After accepting a guilty plea for two counts of discreditable conduct from Ottawa police Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar, Deputy police chief Terence Kelly, presiding over a disciplinary hearing, handed the officer a temporary demotion and ordered him to take cultural sensitivity training.

OTTAWA—Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar of the Ottawa Police Service was found guilty of two counts of discreditable conduct Dec. 7 for racist comments he made online about the death of the famed Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook, whose body was found in the Rideau River just days before the comments were posted.

At a sentencing hearing at police headquarters in downtown Ottawa, Hrnchiar was demoted to first-class constable for a period of three months effective immediately, and must participate in cultural-sensitivity training.

Under an Ottawa Citizen article, which called upon the public to help retrace the last steps of Pootoogook, Hrnchiar had posted from his private Facebook account while off duty, a comment which read: “Because much of the Aboriginal population in Canada is just satisfied being alcohol or drug users, living in poor conditions… they have to have the will to change, it’s not society’s fault.”

He then posted another comment which dismissed the case as not having anything to do with missing or murdered Indigenous women, stating that it was not a murder case, and then speculated that it was either a suicide, an accident or that she “got drunk and fell in the river and drowned,” and that “typically Aboriginals have very short lifespans, talent or not.”

The case around Pootoogook’s death was shortly afterward deemed suspicious and the investigation remains open. No one has been charged in connection with her Sept. 19 death.

At the time of the comments, Hrnchiar was the supervisor of the forensic identification detective who was responsible for processing the scene and identifying Pootoogook.

During the Dec. 7 sentencing, the hearing officer, Deputy Chief Terence Kelly, said that Hrnchiar appreciates the embarrassment his comments have caused the OPS, has displayed remorse for his actions and has engaged with the OPS Diversity and Race Relations team to assist with engaging in a dialogue with members of the Inuit community.

“I accept the guilty pleas based on the facts in this case,” Kelly said.

“If not for the guilty pleas and the apologies of Sgt. Hrnchiar to the Inuit community, Ottawa Police Service and community members, as well as his family, which I take into account as a mitigating factor and recognition of his conduct, I would consider a greater penalty.”

Kelly explained that the three key elements in assessing his penalty were the nature and seriousness of the misconduct, the ability to rehabilitate the officer and the damage to the reputation of the OPS.

The actions of Hrnchiar were clearly inappropriate and an embarrassment to the police service, Kelly said.

“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,” Kelly said.

The evidence presented clearly demonstrated that the public interest was not first and foremost in the mind of Hrnchiar at the time of the comments, Kelly concluded, and that “professionalism and integrity cannot be compromised.”

But Hrnchiar has more than 30 years of exemplary service with the OPS and Kelly said this led him to choose a milder penalty.

The president of the Ottawa Police Association, Matt Skof, spoke with reporters after the hearing.

“Dialogue with Indigenous communities must continue and it must evolve,” Skof said.

When asked how the OPS would work to strengthen their relationship and re-build trust within the Inuit community, he said, “if there is now a feeling that the Ottawa police has created a division, then it is incumbent upon us as an organization to continue to reach out.”

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