At the time, she said she had been able to pass a roadblock outside Yellowknife after persuading incoming Dettah Chief Ernest Betsina to list her as an essential worker, nominally on the basis of her engineering expertise.
Integrity commissioner David Phillip Jones QC – investigating Nokleby for the second time in a matter of weeks – ruled the MLA had brought “the integrity of her office into disrepute.”
If an election were not about to take place, he wrote, he would have considered recommending she be suspended.
Instead, Jones recommended a fine of $7,500 – reduced to $4,000 as Nokleby says she has already donated $3,500 to charity.
The MLA had accepted “she was not in compliance with the evacuation order,” Jones wrote.
Last month, the integrity commissioner – an independent adjudicator in matters of MLAs’ conduct – rejected a separate complaint from communities minister Shane Thompson that Nokleby had used emails and social media in a manner that constituted harassment.
In that case, Jones found that many of Nokleby’s actions had crossed a line but concluded she had mostly committed errors of judgment “made in good faith.”
RCMP said in August they had opened an investigation into Nokleby’s return to Yellowknife. The status of that investigation was not immediately clear on Tuesday, and police have been approached for an update.
Nokleby has stated her intent to seek re-election to a second term in the Great Slave district.
NWT politicians only have a matter of days remaining to actually act on the recommendations in Jones’ report. He acknowledged that may mean incoming MLAs after November’s election must handle the matter of a fine – regardless of whether Nokleby is re-elected.
Aspects ‘strain credibility’
The integrity commissioner’s report includes messages exchanged between Nokleby and Thompson as she sought his help to return to Yellowknife.
“I am currently couch surfing at Jane’s with four cats and it is not a long term option. I have a truck, extensive field experience, my own NOMEX (fire retardant) coveralls and rainsuit, plus steel toes, pickaxes, etc,” Nokleby told the minister in an email on Sunday, August 20, four days after Yellowknife’s evacuation order was issued. The Jane being referred to is understood to be Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Arsmtrong.
In that email, Nokleby asked to be added to the list of essential workers that could be allowed past a roadblock into the city.
“I want to volunteer but I also want to return to look in on the animals and houses of my constituents, many of whom are reaching out to me,” Nokleby wrote.
“Being in Yellowknife, in my own home, will enable me to better support them and others as they return home. I have enough food etc to support myself for several days until I am assigned a role with the volunteer group in an official capacity.”
Thompson told Nokleby that first responders were deciding which services were essential, and those service providers were naming individuals who needed to be in Yellowknife.
In his report, Jones says Nokleby then reached out to Betsina, who had only just won election as the next Dettah chief and had yet to be installed in the position.
“On Wednesday, 23 August, 2023, Chief-Elect Betsina called Ms Nokleby to inform her that she was ‘on the list,’ which she understood meant she could legitimately return to Yellowknife in compliance with the direction provided by Minister Thompson,” Jones wrote.
“She returned to Yellowknife that evening, although the individual working the checkpoint had difficulty finding her name on the EMO [Emergency Management Organization] list but nevertheless let her pass.”
By Friday, Nokleby – an engineer by training – had told Betsina “she could not provide engineering advice because of her non-practising status,” but instead the two “surveyed fire risks on the community boundaries, identified homes that were occupied and the needs of the residents in those homes, and discussed the adequacy of sprinkler systems and firesmarting needs in the community,” among other actions, according to Jones’ report.
On Friday evening, the report adds, Betsina told Nokleby the existing Yellowknives Dene First Nation administration had asked that he “remove her from his team.”
“Following up on the media coverage from earlier that day, the Mayor of Yellowknife and the Premier held a joint press conference that was critical of Ms Nokleby,” Jones’ report states.
“Ms Nokleby states that she received negative and critical messages on social media, and that she spent the following week ‘in an emotional tailspin.’
“Ms Nokleby did not leave Yellowknife. She says she did not want to return to Behchokǫ̀ to impose on her colleague there; the road south was closed; as a single woman she did not feel safe taking the road to Fort Simpson or down to north-eastern British Columbia and then to Alberta.”
Noting the MLAs’ code of conduct – which states in part that members “must act lawfully and in a manner that will withstand the closest public scrutiny” – Jones decided: “Ms Nokleby’s actions in returning to and remaining in Yellowknife despite the evacuation orders did not meet this standard.”
“Ms Nokleby may have been well-intentioned in genuinely wanting to assist in some way in Yellowknife,” he wrote.
“However, it strains credibility to assert that a professional geological engineer was essential in dealing with the wildfire situation.
“Although I have considerable doubt whether Chief-Elect Betsina … had authority to characterize Ms Nokleby as an essential worker or actually took the required steps with EMO to make her one, I am prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt on whether her return was lawful. But it was ill-advised, and showed poor judgment when all the other MLAs in Yellowknife and staff at the Legislative Assembly had evacuated, not to mention the thousands of residents who obeyed the order, left and did not try to come back.”
Nokleby said she would need time before commenting. The report was made public by the Legislative Assembly in a news release while she and other MLAs were sitting in one of their final days before the legislature breaks for the election.