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Annie Pootoogook Family for James Adams story
Annie Pootoogook Family for James Adams story

Globe editorial

The bias against an Inuit artist Add to ...

The death of celebrated Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook, found dead in the Rideau River last month, is being treated by the Ottawa police major-crimes unit as suspicious.

But one Ottawa police officer apparently regarded the investigation into the 47-year-old native woman’s death as a waste of time.

A commenter on the Ottawa Citizen’s website, who has been identified as a sergeant in the city’s police force, declared that the death was “not a murder case.” His logic in reaching this dismissive conclusion? “Typically many aboriginals have very short lifespans, talent or not.”

It’s hard to see why anyone would rely on that kind of twisted reasoning to discourage a murder investigation – in reality, the evidence of a premature death should point the other way. The same commenter offered a follow-up thought that indigenous Canadians are “just satisfied being alcohol or drug abusers.”

The idea that even a single member of a major urban police force could prejudge a sensitive case with such closed-minded generalizations is deeply disturbing. Ottawa police chief Charles Bordeleau has labelled the comments as “inappropriate” and stated that they don’t reflect the values of his force.

And yet what’s worrying is that they do in fact reflect the values of a part of his force, however small. The officer in question, apparently unaware or unconcerned that he was saying something shameful, had enough confidence to share his convictions with a wider public – and he remains on active duty with the force. What kind of message does this send to a public deeply concerned about the ability of Canada’s police services to investigate the deaths of indigenous women without a bias that is implicitly racist?

Too many native deaths and disappearances were ignored and trivialized for too long in Canada because of a blame-the-victim prejudice. Biased police officers can’t be trusted to do their work properly – it’s as simple as that. If you choose to ignore the specifics of the case in front of you because you’re blinded by irrelevant preconceptions, you’re simply not qualified for the job of policing.

The greater problem is that ideas like this continue to exist in police departments. Standards of recruitment and training must be improved. Bias of any kind compromises police work and does irreparable harm to the society it purports to serve.

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