APTN National News
Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo said he felt despair when he heard of the racist comments posted by an Ottawa police officer in response to a newspaper story about the death of Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook.
Tootoo, who is an independent MP, said he was happy to see Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau announcing he was investigating Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar’s online comments which claimed “most Aboriginals have very short lifespans” and dismissed Pootoogook’s death.
“I was extremely disappointed to see a law enforcement officer making comments like that. It is despairing,” he said. “It also goes to show the level of ignorance that is out there and the challenge Inuit people face in this country. For a lot of people, this is our daily lives.”
The Ottawa police said Hrnchiar’s comments were under investigation on orders from the police chief.
Pootoogook’s body was found in the Rideau River on Sept. 19. Ottawa police initially stated investigators did not believe foul play caused her death. A week later, the police’s Major Crime Unit said it was reconsidering the case as “suspicious.”
Tootoo said the actions of the Ottawa police follow a pattern by police forces across the country.
“It’s all too common when an Indigenous woman, and Inuit woman is found lifeless or goes missing, it’s something that law enforcement doesn’t always take seriously,” said Tootoo. “I am very glad the Ottawa police force is investigating further….A lot of times, situations like this are not taken seriously right off the bat.”
Pootoogook is originally from Cape Dorset, Nunavut, which is in Tootoo’s riding. Tootoo heard about the death from a friend. He knew about Pootoogook, but didn’t know her personally.
Tootoo said the claims from Pootoogook’s friends and family that the Inuit artist was fleeing domestic violence at the time of her death was something that hit close to home.
He said one of his own friends was killed by an abusive partner.
“I remember talking to her and she would be looking at me, ‘Don’t say anything,’ terrified,” said Tootoo. “It’s okay to talk about these things, it’s important to talk about these things because it avoids tragic situations.”
Pootoogook’s partner is not a suspect in her death.
The commissioners with the recently launched national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women said through a spokesperson they could not comment on Pootoogook’s case. The spokesperson said the inquiry could deal with the case if someone submitted it for review by the five commissioners.
The Liberal government was initially criticized for not naming an Inuk as a commissioner for the inquiry.
Tootoo was once federal minister of fisheries, but he resigned following a messy personal affair that led him to seek treatment for addictions.