Ottawa’s 17th annual Flotilla for Friendship forged a new friendship between two unlikely parties, as a police officer made amends with the family of an Indigenous woman whose death he once criticized online.

It was a touching scene on the shore of the Rideau Canal on Wednesday, where Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar embraced little Napachie, 4, and her sister Ellie, 8. Both girls are the daughters of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook, who died last September.

“This is my first time meeting Napachie today and the first thing she did was jump right into my arms, and it was amazing,” Hrnchiar told CTV Ottawa. “She’s got a lot of strength for a four-year-old.”

The moment was a far cry from where things were last year, when Hrnchiar made racist comments online about Pootoogook, following the discovery of her body by the Rideau River. Hrnchiar pleaded guilty to two Police Services Act charges of discreditable conduct in connection with his comments.

“I’m truly sorry for my actions,” he said outside the Ottawa police station last November.

But Hrnchiar didn’t leave it at an apology. The 30-year veteran has reached out to the Indigenous community and Pootoogook’s family in an effort to right his wrong.

“It’s very heartwarming,” Veldon Coburn, who is raising Pootoogook’s girls, told CTV Ottawa. “He didn’t shrug it off and just turn his back on responsibility. He faced up to it.”

Hrnchiar joined Ellie, Napachie and Coburn in a canoe for the Flotilla for Friendship event on Wednesday.

Jill Skinner, Ottawa’s acting chief of police, hailed Hrnchiar for turning the situation into something positive.

“It really does send a message to all of us that there is an opportunity for forgiveness, and a willingness to learn, to change our behaviour and be better people,” she said.

Flotilla for Friendship organizer Lynda Kitchikeesic Juden called Hrnchiar’s participation the “cherry on top of the cupcake” at the event.

“This is what flotilla is all about, is bringing unlikely partners together,” she said.

Hrnchiar said it was a “very emotional” day for him, while Coburn called it a “profound” experience.

Coburn said it was also a moment that Pootoogook herself would have been happy to see if she were still alive.

“I hope she would embrace the idea that people who had nothing very much in common came together to make things better for Indigenous people,” he said.

With files from CTV Ottawa