Ottawa police officer, Annie Pootoogook's kids paddle in Flotilla for Friendship

An Ottawa Police officer canoed up the Rideau Canal today in a life-changing voyage to self-discovery.

Sergeant Chris Hrnchiar, who last year pleaded guilty to making inappropriate comments on-line about late Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook, today paddled with Pootoogook's two girls.

While Annie's two children are too young to understand the significance behind today, it wasn't lost on the Ottawa police force, the Indigenous community and the two men flanking those little girls in the canoe, who have oddly become friends after a fractious beginning.

It was an unusual meeting that tugs at the heart; 4-year-old Napachie, 8-year-old Ellie and a 30-year veteran of the Ottawa Police, who was disciplined last year after racist posts about the girls' mother, Inuk artist Annie Poo-too-goo.

“This is my first time meeting Napachie,” Hrnchiar said, as he patted the little girl on the back, “and the first thing she did is jump into my arms. It was amazing. She's got a lot of strength for a 4-year-old  

It is a strength she probably got from her mother.  Annie Pootoogook managed to create magic through art, despite a difficult life, a life that ended on the shores of the Rideau River last fall.  Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar's posts about her death prompted charges of discreditable conduct.  He pleaded guilty and has sought to right a wrong, reaching out to the Indigenous community and to the man raising Annie's girls, Veldon Coburn, who was the one who first brought the questionable posts to the attention of the Ottawa Police.

“It's very heart warming, he didn't shrug it off and turn his back on his responsibility,” Coburn said, as he prepared to paddle with the girls, “he faced up to it, it's something that is quite profound for me.”

And so today, the 17th annual Flotilla for Friendship was truly about friendship but also a whole lot more.

Lynda Kitchikeesic Juden has organized the flotilla for all these years.  It was her idea to invite Coburn, who, in turn, asked Hrnchiar to come along.

“Today seems like the cherry on top of the cupcake,” Kitchikeesic Juden says, “because this is what flotilla is all about, bringing unlikely partners together.”

“It really does send a message to all of us,” added Acting Police Chief Jill Skinner, “that there is an opportunity for forgiveness and a willingness to learn, to change our behavior and be better people.”

“I think it’s going to be fun,” Ellie said, her little sister by her side, paddles in hand and lifejackets ready to go, “This is my first time in a canoe.”

While Annie's girls are too young to understand the significance of a simple canoe ride, it's an emotional day for the two men moving that canoe along.

“It’s a very emotional day for me,” said Hrnchiar, unable to finish his sentence.

And what would Annie say about all this? Vendon Coburn isn’t sure, but added this, “I hope she would embrace the idea that people who had nothing in common came together to make things better for Indigenous people.”

And that's Hrnchiar’s promise to Annie as well; to watch over her girls and continue to honor her life.