Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Speaking The Dismal Truth to Political Correctness

"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."
"And of course this has nothing to do with missing and murdered Aboriginal women ... it's not a murder case ... it's [sic] 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."
Police Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar, Ottawa Police Services

"Although I had long since forgiven the officer for his racist tirade, I have a renewed sense of disappointment based on the new details that we learned today."
"Even if [his role] was tangential, it's close enough to me that somebody that close should display and exercise greater sense of professionalism and decency."
"Annie deserved better, far, far better."
"The greater issue for me is racism in policing. There should be some reaction at the organization level, too. They can't deny now that there is an issue of racism among their ranks."
Veldon Coburn, adoptive father of Annie Pootoogook's child
Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook, of Cape Dorset, Nunavut, is seen here in a still from a 2005 documentary. She was found dead on Sept. 19 in Ottawa.
Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook, of Cape Dorset, Nunavut, is seen here in a still from a 2005 documentary. She was found dead on Sept. 19 in Ottawa. (CBC) 
"[Hrnchiar's actions were] completely inappropriate, [his] peripheral involvement [in the case should have excluded him from] insulting and racist [comments on Annie Pootoogook's death]."
"[Hrnchiar's comments] tarnished [the police service reputation. The community [Inuit community in Ottawa] demanded an investigation immediately; [Hrnchiar will] forever be labelled by his comments."
Prosecutor Christiane Huneault
It is a tragic but indisputable fact of life that indigenous peoples of North America have always had an irresistible attraction to alcohol, and it has ruined the lives of all too many who fall prey to its addictive misery. The effect of alcohol for the First Nations people of Canada has robbed many of the dignity of life, of a life well lived. Those addictions have transformed the culture of proud peoples helpless to defend themselves from their own genetic disposition to crave the effects of alcohol poisoning even while it wreaks havoc with their lives and their communities.

A case in point is the short life of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook, an Inuk artist whose paintings have been recognized for her authentic genius in portraying through her drawings, the life of Inuit in the Far North. She was the recipient of notable awards for her talent, her paintings drew attention in North America and in Europe, and have been much in demand. An award of $50,000 through the Sobey Art Award furnished her with ample indication that she was highly respected as an artist. Validation came in the form of her works being exhibited across the globe.

But she latterly lived on the street in Ottawa, and had done so for almost ten years. Her struggles with addiction left her living in shelters or on the street, panhandling, content with the sale of her drawings to anyone who would pay the $25 or $30 she would part with them for, providing the means by which she bought cigarettes and alcohol. She had a common-law relationship with a non-aboriginal man who also lived on the street and at one point they acquired a publicly-paid apartment of their own.

Fine Liner Eyebrow, by Annie Pootoogook
Fine Liner Eyebrow one of Pootoogook's drawings on display at the National Gallery of Canada. (Annie Pootoogook/National Gallery of Canada/Dorset Fine Arts)

Those who followed this woman's career were dismayed at the turn her life had taken. She had decided at one point that she would seek help for her addiction, and she did. But nothing seemed to give her the required impetus to manage to transcend her craving that left her a far lesser person than she was. She had a child while living rough on the street, the baby was delivered in a bathroom at the Salvation Army installation in downtown Ottawa.

She and her common-law husband meant to raise the child, but living as they did it was impractical for the sake for the child, and the child was surrendered for adoption. She had had another child at an earlier time when she was living in her home community of Cape Dorset in Nunavut, and that child was being raised by other Inuit, as is the custom within the Inuit community. On September 19, Annie Pootoogook's lifeless body was discovered in the Ottawa River. By that time she was no longer with the father of her child.

Although her death was initially thought to be accidental in nature, police have since felt that perhaps there might have been something suspicious about the death, that particular "elements" warranted additional investigation. And so the Police Services asked the public for assistance if anyone had any information on the artist's whereabouts and activities in the days preceding the discovery of her body. Of course, there was a news report on the death, and in response to the news item, Sgt. Hrnchiar wrote his comments on his Facebook account.

It was the comments that he committed to that sparked controversy when the adoptive father of Annie Pootoogook's daughter happened to see them on line. The Facebook account features Sgt. Hrnchiar in uniform, displaying a police badge surrounded by a black band, in memory of a fallen fellow officer. Mr. Coburn brought those comments to the attention of the chief of police in Ottawa and the city's mayor, and an internal investigation ensued.

It transpires that although Sgt. Hrnchiar was not professionally involved in the investigation, he was a sergeant in the forensic identification section and as such supervised the detective who did work on the case, and who was responsible for identifying Ms. Pootoogook. The upshot of the investigation of the sergeant's unsolicited and inappropriate -- given the circumstances -- public remarks was his apology while pleading guilty to two counts of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act.

The public censure that arose over the revelations of his unseemly, however true comments did in a sense compromise the police in the opinion of the Inuit community, thus doing a grave disservice both to the police services and the Inuit community for his lack of tact. The impetuous, ill-thought-out nature of this man's decision to submit to his wish to comment on this matter was clearly inappropriate given his profession and the situation of an open criminal investigation.

However, because he has expressed remorse for his posting of those comments, and suggested that he be exposed to help from the diversity and race relations unit, he has partially redeemed himself in the opinion of his peers and police authorities. He has, through his reaction to charges against himself, acknowledged the deleterious impact of his comments on others. And while the indigenous community would prefer to see this officer fired, for this man of 30 years' experience who apologized profusely, a penalty of a three-month demotion to first-class constable and mandatory multicultural training has been proposed.

Untitled (Kenojuak and Annie with Governor General Michaelle Jean)
Pootoogook made this drawing following her visit with former governor general Michaelle Jean when an exhibition opened at the National Gallery in 2009. (Annie Pootoogook/National Gallery of Canada/Dorset Fine Arts)

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