Ottawa Police Officer Files Complaint Alleging Racial Bias During Official Promotion

Inspector Samir Bhatnagar is seeking C$140,000 in damages, and immediate promotion to the post of superintendent.


A police officer of Indian origin in Ottawa has filed a human rights complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, alleging discrimination by the chief of police due to his skin color. Inspector Samir Bhatnagar claims in his complaint, filed in November 2017, that he was overlooked for promotion repeatedly, the Ottawa Citizen reported on March 29.

Bhatnagar says that he was discriminated against for being a “brown-skinned man of East Indian origin.” Bhatnagar alleges that he was not promoted and faced bias from Charles Bordeleau, the chief of Ottawa Police Service, as well as members of his senior executive.

“The ugly fact is that the Ottawa police and Chief Bordeleau do not see police officers of color as suitable for positions of senior leadership in the service,” the publication quoted Bhatnagar’s lawyer Paul Champ as saying.

Champ added that despite all the claims of being inclusive and recruiting people from minority communities, the Ottawa Police Service, in fact, has no officer of color who is at the rank of superintendent or above. Champ said that in the entire history of the service spanning 150 years, there has been only one such person.

Bhatnagar is seeking an amount of C$140,000 in damages for “harm to dignity, feelings and self-respect” and for loss of income that he would have got if he was promoted to the post of superintendent in 2012. He is also seeking promotion immediately to the post of superintendent and is asking that the tribunal mandate an anti-discrimination training for Bordeleau and senior officers so there is no racial discrimination in the process of promotion.

“These promotions and opportunities have been regularly made available to my white colleagues during this same period, despite the fact many of them do not have my breadth of experience or comparable performance reviews,” Bhatnagar alleges in the complaint.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) resolves claims of discrimination and harassment brought under the Human Rights Code in a fair, just and timely manner.

Ottawa Police Service (OPS) has, however, denied the charge, saying that these are “bald allegations” of racial discrimination and that the officer had criticized Bordeleau openly and so was “unfit” to be promoted, the report said.

Bhatnagar has been an Ottawa police officer since 1991. He entered the promotional process in 2012, through which he could have become a superintendent – the highest rank of officers who are promoted by the senior police brass. The chief and deputy chiefs of the force are recruited by the police board.

“The chief has significant concerns about his suitability for senior leadership. The applicant has demonstrated an open defiance of and disrespect for the chief and other leaders and an attitude signifying his belief that he knows better than those individuals,” said the police board.

Although the board admits that Bhatnagar was overlooked for promotion, it says that it was because he refused to conform to the directives of a police chief, who was of the opinion that Bhatnagar was not trustworthy.

The tribunal will take a decision on whether Bhatnagar’s allegations were led by racial discrimination by the service. Bhatnagar and the police board have agreed to opt for mediation, the publication reported.

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