Officer's 'white man's day is done' comment was unprofessional but not offensive, tribunal rules

Ottawa police suspended Const. Paul Heffler with pay in 2021 after a video began circulating on social media in which he made comments that many people deemed to be racist. He was found guilty this week of three Police Services Act charges, but not the one related to those remarks. (Olivier Plante/CBC - image credit)
Ottawa police suspended Const. Paul Heffler with pay in 2021 after a video began circulating on social media in which he made comments that many people deemed to be racist. He was found guilty this week of three Police Services Act charges, but not the one related to those remarks. (Olivier Plante/CBC - image credit)

An Ottawa police officer who was caught on video claiming the "white man's day is done" has been found guilty on three of four disciplinary charges — but not the discreditable conduct charge related to those remarks.

Const. Paul Heffler was suspended with pay in April 2021 after a video recorded two years earlier went viral on social media.

In the video, Heffler and three other officers — all on duty and all in uniform — could be seen and heard making comments about race as they waited to serve a warrant.

During their conversation, Heffler is heard paraphrasing someone whose name is inaudible, saying: "Our days are done. White man's day is done."

He also can be heard discussing interracial relationships, claiming that in Toronto "every couple you see walking by is a mixed couple."

"I told my son he can find a Chinese, Asian girlfriend," Heffler says in the video. "If he wants to stay in the mix, get your foot in the door."

The comments were deemed offensive by the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) and racist by the then-chair of the police board and various community groups.

Heffler had previously told CBC his words were taken out of context and he was trying to talk about general population demographics. He was charged under the Police Services Act in March 2022.

'Mere observations'

In a decision released Wednesday, retired superintendent Chris Renwick said Heffler's comments were unwarranted, especially as they were made while he was on the job, in the process of arresting a Black man.

But finding them offensive — and thus grounds for discreditable conduct — was "more difficult," he noted, as that "entails landing on the wide-ranging expectations of our diverse public."

Renwick cited opinions published in emails and in one local newspaper where people disagreed with the notion Heffler's comments were racist.

According to Renwick's summary, Heffler also testified at the five-day November hearing that he was not promoting hatred but just making "mere observations" on a topic people talk about all the time.

"The conversation and remarks were unprofessional, unnecessary and unwelcomed by a uniformed police officer engaged in his lawful duties, and I find them to be inappropriate," Renwick concluded.

"However I cannot conclude that they are in fact offensive, despite making their way into the public domain and causing damage to the reputation and image of the OPS."

Guilty on unrelated charges

Renwick did find Heffler guilty of three other Police Services Act charges, however:

  • Insubordination for sending inappropriate and unprofessional emails.

  • Discreditable conduct for sending inappropriate and unprofessional emails.

  • Discreditable conduct for concluding a pair of criminal investigations in an inappropriate and unprofessional manner.

In the two investigations, Heffler decided not to pursue charges against two people — both members of "racialized communities," Renwick wrote — after they deceived him about their identities.

Heffler concluded the deceptions were likely sparked by the fact he was a police officer, and in one case, he said he was "not comfortable stigmatizing [the suspect] further with more criminal charges."

The issue, Renwick said, was the fact Heffler didn't try to establish their true identities later, in part out of his own frustration with an internal policing system that had locked down his reports.

As for the emails, Heffler was accused of sending them in February and November 2021 to high-ranking OPS officials, including former chief Peter Sloly, and the force's master distribution list.

In one email obtained by CBC, Heffler asked Sloly about allegations of reprisals, which were made by the spouse of one of the police employees who came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against now-resigned deputy chief Uday Jaswal.

Renwick ruled that sending the emails so widely violated a chief's order and the force's information and technology policy, and thus constituted insubordination.

The November 2021 email also contained the phrase "blowing smoke up the posteriors of a narcisitic [sic] and self-serving administration" and met the grounds for discreditable conduct, Renwick said.

The penalties Heffler will face have not yet been announced.