Ottawa police officer says he wants to make amends with Inuit
“We say things that are hurtful sometimes because we don’t understand everything that we should”
OTTAWA—Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar may have been dismissed as a racist Ottawa cop for the online comments he made about Aboriginal people after the September death of Annie Pootoogook, but since then he has been trying to prove that he can be trusted again as a peace officer by reaching out to local Inuit organizations.
Last weekend he helped to serve lunch to several hundred guests at the annual Tungasuvvingat Inuit Christmas party, the organization’s largest gathering each year. He also offered to act as Santa’s helper this year, taking photos of children who met with St. Nick.
Spending a few hours kneeling on a stage and telling jokes to get kids to smile, he snapped photo after photo of children telling Santa what they wanted for Christmas this year.
Hrnchiar also visited the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre a few weeks ago and said it was amazing. Those at OICC asked him if he wanted to read to the kids in the future— an offer that he enthusiastically accepted.
“I love reading to kids. I read to kids on a regular basis,” Hrnchiar said, explaining that he typically does this through the Ottawa Reads program.
“They were saying though, ‘Would you like to talk to the youth also about the use of social media?’ And I said,” Hrnchiar paused here, and laughed. “I said, ‘Yeah, I think I can give them some advice.’”
Hrnchiar, a stocky man with a big smile and blue eyes that tear up when he speaks about the past few months, sat down with Nunatsiaq News Dec. 10 after he was finished with his photo duties at the TI party.
In his first media interview since making those controversial online comments and enduring a police disciplinary hearing where he was temporarily demoted, Hrnchiar appeared sincere and remorseful, apologizing for hurting people and saying he wants to learn more about, and from, the Inuit of Ottawa.
“This kind of event is the sort of thing that shows me there is so much that I was missing,” he said. “And it is not because you don’t want to see it—it may just be the way your life is, or what you’re doing. But you have to seek those things. You have to educate yourself.”
Hrnchiar has not yet started his court-mandated cultural sensitivity training and does not know yet what this will involve. But he said he didn’t need an official sanction to know he’d done something wrong.
“Right from the start, right when I realized I had hurt people, I wanted to seek out ways to make that better,” Hrnchiar said.
When asked why his online comments dismissed Pootoogook’s death as not being related to missing and murdered Indigenous women when it was deemed suspicious shortly afterward, he explained his thinking at the time.
“The police had initially released that they did not believe that it was a murder investigation. That was what I was going on,” Hrnchiar said. “But cases often evolve with time.”
He looks away and rubs his eyes when he speaks specifically about Pootoogook’s case.
“I’m so sorry, it just gets me very emotional,” Hrnchiar said. “I know I did wrong.”
He said he does not use social media often but, as a community member, he likes to engage with the public. Hrnchiar said leaving comments can be tricky on certain topics, especially for police officers, and that a lot of things have changed in the 30 years since he first started working in police services.
“It’s not as simple as training all the officers,” Hrnchiar said. “You have to do things on your own time. You have to engage—volunteer, come to events like this and seek out those things. I think that is the strength of a good citizen and that will help you no matter what your job is.”
Good citizenship also means recognizing when you have a bias, something everybody has, even if they don’t admit it, he said.
“Nobody can say they don’t. A lot of that is based on what you know, how you educate yourself, and I think you can only get better at that,” Hrnchiar said.
He said he thinks people say hurtful things sometimes because they have no direct knowledge of, or experience with, other cultures. But people need to find ways to educate themselves, he says.
“We say things that are hurtful sometimes because we don’t understand everything that we should,” Hrnchiar said. “We don’t understand our communities the way we should and we don’t understand the people in those communities the way we should. It is something that I realized and it is something that I am trying to heal, to make better.”
It is one of the reasons he went to the TI Christmas party, he said.
“Sometimes we don’t know why we say the things we say,” Hrnchiar said. “It can be frustration, it can be ignorance, it can be a lot of things. Sometimes you can have an impression of things because you don’t know everything. They may be because of what you know or think you know… but they may not be complete.”
Hrnchiar’s coworkers, like OPS Chief Charles Bordeleau and David Zackrias, head of the race and diversity team at the OPS, say Hrnchiar is taking the initiative to help rebuild the now damaged relationship with the Inuit community. They are still thinking up new ways to do this.
It’s important, Hrnchiar said, to own up to your mistakes.
“I don’t think about turning back time. What you have to do is recognize your faults, lackings, and try to make it better,” Hrnchiar said. “I’m not so proud that I can’t learn things or engage more with people. I can.”
But he said he knows this kind of healing takes time.
“I want to face the people I have hurt and say, ‘I am sorry, and what can I do better and what can you teach me—what can I learn from you,’” Hrnchiar said.
“It’s going to help me to be a better officer and it’s going to help me be a better citizen.”