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Ottawa police officer defends himself against allegations of racism

Ottawa Citizen logo Ottawa Citizen 2021-04-09 Andrew Duffy
a man wearing a sweater: File: Ottawa Police Services. © Provided by Ottawa Citizen File: Ottawa Police Services.

An Ottawa police officer says it’s unfair for people to condemn him as a racist simply for discussing race in an online video that is now the subject of an internal police probe.

“It’s crazy to say that because a police officer was talking about race, that it’s racist,” Const. Paul Heffler, a 34-year veteran of the service, said in an interview Friday.

“I’m embarrassed by the way it has been painted, but I’m not embarrassed by what I said. Because I know what we were saying was a simple, objective analysis of something.”

Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt said the video plainly shows Ottawa police officers using racist language. “They’re talking about the white race, white men being replaced, interracial relationships: This is pure racism and it’s the language of white nationalism,” he said Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition said the video casts doubt on the effectiveness of the police service’s attempt at reform. “It calls it into question because, in reality, when people are not looking, this is how Ottawa police officers speak,” Jason Seguya said.

Seguya said the racist language used in the video offers more support for the idea of moving resources away from the police and into social agencies that can be trusted by people of colour – an idea known as defunding. “How are we supposed to feel safe in our community when we know these are the people paid to protect us?” he asked.

Heffler said the discussion with two other officers occurred two or three years ago; it was captured surreptitiously on video and posted online earlier this week . The conversation, he said, was prompted by a CBC news story about the birth rate for non-whites in the U.S., which included projections about what that means for the overall population.

Demographers project that caucasians will become a minority in the U.S. — comprising less than 50 per cent of the population — in about 2045.

The video, first posted on TikTok, begins mid-sentence with Heffler quoting someone else saying, “Our days are done, white man’s day is done.”

The other officers concur with the idea then Heffler expresses astonishment at Toronto’s diversity: “You go to Toronto and every couple you see walking by is a mixed couple, you don’t see two white people together, (you see) white-Asian, white-East Indian…I told my son you gotta find a Chinese or an Asian girl if he wants to stay in a mixed; get your foot in the door.”

Heffler said his reference to “the white man” was a flippant way of summing up the information in the news story. “I can’t even call myself the white man, it seems. That’s how absurd it has become,” he said.

The video, he said, was edited to cast him in the worst possible light. “I think, if you’re fair, you can see when we’re discussing it, I’m not angry about it,” Heffler said. “I’m not saying, ‘Holy cow, the white man’s days are done and we have to head for the hills.'”

Andrew Younis, the fitness trainer who uploaded the video to social media said he received the video from a close friend and posted what was sent to him.

In the advice to his son, Heffler noted, he’s not telling him to propagate the white race: “I’m saying, ‘Join the club because that’s the way the world is going to be.'”

Police officers deal with race every day, he said, and are asked to search for suspects described as white, Black, Asian or Indigenous. “We can’t exclude race from our consciousness so is it wrong for a police officer to talk about it in any format?” he asked.

The video is now the subject of a professional standards investigation. The Ottawa Police Service has said comments in the video are offensive and inconsistent with its values. “They have no place in the policing profession,” the service said in an official statement earlier this week.

Heffler said he felt “thrown under the bus” by that and decided to defend himself even though it could mean more discipline measures.

“I said, ‘Screw that, I’m going to defend myself,'” he said Friday. “The trouble with policing nowadays is that a news story goes out, an officer is painted a certain way, and we never hear the other side.”

Heffler said he can retire anytime, which makes it easier for him to speak out.

In 2016, Heffler attracted controversy by sending a mass email to the entire force, decrying its toxic culture and complaining that officers are treated like “dime store security guards.”


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