Trigger warning: Quotes very violent and offensive language about Indigenous people, survivors of violence, and women.
We at the Carleton University Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), representing approximately 4,000 graduate students, unequivocally condemn the Ottawa Police Service’s actions in the wake of the death of Annie Pootoogook, world-renowned Inuit artist and much loved community member, who was found dead in the Ottawa River on Friday, September 23rd.
Firstly, we find it horrifying that her death was at first declared not to be suspicious by Ottawa police, and only declared suspicious several days after Ms. Pootoogook was found. This sequence of events points to an astounding lack of concern for Ms. Pootoogook’s life. It is especially concerning given the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. The OPS seems ignorant to this reality.
Furthermore, after Ms. Pootoogook’s death Ottawa Police sergeant Chris Hrnchiar made vile and racist comments, dismissing the case as having “nothing to do with missing or murdered Aboriginal women”, and further that “It’s not a murder case….it’s could be a suicide, accidental, she got drunk and fell in the river and drowned who knows…..typically many Aboriginals have very short lifespans, talent or not [sic]”.
Mr. Hrnchiar also asserted that “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 [sic]”.
These comments are inexcusably racist and paint Indigenous people as responsible for their own marginalization and oppression. It glosses over centuries of well documented and systemic discrimination, dispossession, outright violence, and structural genocide. It shows a horrifying lack of respect for the lives of Indigenous people, and should not be tolerated from a public servant.
Following Mr. Hrnchiar’s comments Police Chief Charles Bordeleau claimed that the had “no evidence” of the presence of any racist officers in his force. Though he later revised these comments, his initial reaction to the comments demonstrates an inability to recognize and confront racism that is truly disturbing. Furthermore, Mayor Jim Watson claimed that only “some” of these comments were offensive, and they were “bordering on racism”, rather than condemning them outright.
These comments from the Police Chief and the Mayor cause us grave concern that our city’s leadership is incapable and unwilling to challenge the systemic racism so evident in this city’s law enforcement. People of colour in this city are still reeling from the police killing of Abdirahman Abdi at the end of July.
We are gravely concerned for the safety and well-being of our Indigenous, Black, and other graduate student members of colour in the face of this pattern of racism, followed by equivocation and inaction by the city’s leadership.
Finally, we send our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Annie Pootoogook and to the Inuit community of Ottawa, as well as broader Indigenous community.
We stand in solidarity and strength with people of colour in this city who must deal with the OPS on a daily basis.