Complaint that NWT health minister broke Covid-19 rules dismissed
The NWT’s integrity commissioner has dismissed a complaint from Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson that health minister Diane Thom broke MLAs’ code of conduct over Covid-19 rules.
Jacobson alleged Thom spent time at a cabin in March with at least nine others, including people who were supposed to be self-isolating, and was seen driving a snow machine while intoxicated.
On Friday, the legislature published a report from commissioner David Phillip Jones that entirely dismissed Jacobson’s complaint, suggesting it was driven by political motives and the breakdown of the minister’s marriage.
Jones said there was no evidence anyone had complained to a public health officer, no evidence for the snow machine allegation, and no formal complaint had been received by senior NWT government officials.
Jones concluded Jacobson’s complaint was “vexatious and was not made in good faith.”
He said any error relating to Covid-19 rules made by the health minister was made in good faith and happened at a time when “there was a rudimentary appreciation of the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic,” which could not be re-examined with “20:20 hindsight.”
(While Jacobson alleged the cabin incident happened in March, the report suggests it took place in early April – though still at a time before restrictions on indoor gatherings came into effect.)
Jones suggested Jacobson had sought to use the MLAs’ code of conduct as a “political weapon of choice” and his complaint was at least partly reliant on “hearsay.”
Extraordinarily, Jones’ report relies on the details of health minister Thom’s marital life to explain why the complaint was dismissed.
The report, relaying remarks made to Jones by Thom and others, suggests Thom’s husband passed on text messages to Jacobson which became the source of the Nunakput MLA’s complaint.
Jones said the health minister’s actions at the cabin appeared to have become “a weapon in the course of a marital breakdown” between the minister and Grant Thom, who is Inuvik’s RCMP detachment commander.
The report includes copies of some text messages exchanged by the Thoms. Jones said he had reviewed a number of messages supplied by both the minister and her husband.
Various messages reproduced in the report show both Mr Thom and Jacobson telling the deputy clerk of the legislature, Glen Rutland, that concerns about the minister’s cabin trip may be leaked to reporters unless action was taken.
In one text message, Mr Thom accuses Rutland and other officials of “circling the wagons” to protect his wife.
A string of messages from the morning of April 10, 2020 shows the minister and her husband exchanging concerns about the cabin incident, which involved a cousin and three friends showing up “looking to borrow gas” in the minister’s words.
The public report states the Thoms were “having serious marital difficulties and have since separated.”
Mr Thom phoned and emailed Inuvik’s other MLA, Lesa Semmler, legislature deputy clerk Rutland, and Speaker of the House Frederick Blake Jr about his wife’s actions.
Blake told Jones he had received a “very emotional phone call” from Mr Thom in May, during which he “threatened to go to the media [and] asked Blake to ‘rein her in,'” according to Jones’ summary.
The minister told Jones her husband had been the best man at Jacobson’s wedding.
Blake said Jacobson “brought up a whole bunch of things” about the minister at a caucus meeting in May, “but the members supported her,” the report continued.
Mr Thom confirmed to Jones that he had spoken with Semmler, Blake, and others, and said he regarded those communications as formal complaints about his wife but nothing was done, according to the report.
Jones ultimately sided with the officials, Semmler, and Premier Caroline Cochrane – who had denied receiving any formal complaint about her minister – in concluding Mr Thom’s calls and messages had not constituted formal complaints.
Jacobson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr Thom could not be immediately reached for comment. The minister has been approached for comment through the territorial government’s communications staff.