A sole adjudicator will conduct an inquiry into Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn’s alleged breaches of the members’ code of conduct.
In a 137-page report released on Tuesday afternoon, the NWT legislature’s Integrity Commissioner David Phillip Jones determined that a complaint against Norn must be directed to an inquiry before a sole adjudicator.
On May 6, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson made a complaint against Norn to the integrity commissioner on behalf of the other 17 MLAs. It alleges that Norn breached the MLAs’ code of conduct by failing to self-isolate for 14 days as required after returning to the NWT following travel to Alberta, and for “misleading the public regarding his compliance with the self-isolation order.”
In late April, Norn publicly stated that he was among those who had tested positive for Covid-19 in Yellowknife and was adamant that he had isolated at home as instructed from April 4 to 18 after returning from what he described as travel for a family emergency. Shortly afterwards, however, Cabin Radio reported that three people came forward to say Norn had entered the Legislative Assembly building on April 17 – a full day before his isolation period was set to end. Norn reportedly admitted to the CBC in May that he had broken isolation.
Norn asked for complaint to be dismissed
According to Jones’ report, legal counsel for Norn argued the complaint against him should be dismissed as “the contravention was minor or was committed inadvertently or due to an error in judgement made in good faith.” They further argued that Norn “took all reasonable measures to prevent a contravention of the code of conduct.”
Norn’s response to the complaint states that he returned to the NWT from Grande Prairie on April 4 – a day earlier than he had planned – and he “erroneously but honestly believed” that day would be included in his 14-day isolation period. Norn argued there is no evidence that anyone contracted Covid-19 due to him “ending his isolation mere hours before the date set out in his isolation plan.”
Norn said he went to the Legislative Assembly on the night of April 17 to get his glasses and some work files from his office before immediately leaving. He said the only other person present was a security guard, who later tested negative for Covid-19, and they were both wearing masks during the “brief encounter.”
The following day, before his isolation period ended, Norn said he went to the Yellowknife Racquet Club. That resulted in the gym issuing a statement that a “small group of contacts” may have been exposed to Covid-19, but, according to Norn, no one contracted Covid-19 as a resulted of that visit.
Dismissing complaint would ‘undermine the integrity’ of MLAs
Despite those arguments, Jones found that Norn’s alleged breaches of his mandatory isolation period and his “inaccurate statements” about isolating as required fall short of the standards of the MLA’s code of conduct and warrant an inquiry.
“In my view, one cannot characterize Mr. Norn’s contraventions of the code as being minor, or committed through inadvertence, or by reason of an error of judgement made in good faith,” he wrote.
“Leaving self-isolation prior to the required 14 days is not a trivial or minor matter.”
Jones said the isolation requirement was well known in the territory, there is no evidence that Norn took any measures to prevent a contravention of the code of conduct, and that the public interest would not be served by dropping the complaint against Norn.
“Dismissing the complaint at this stage would undermine the integrity, reputation and stature of all members and the public’s estimation of the Legislative Assembly as an institution,” he wrote. “To dismiss the complaint would make the code ineffective.”
The code of conduct states that “members must act lawfully and in a manner that will withstand the closest public scrutiny, upholding the integrity and honour of the Legislative Assembly and its members.” It notes that MLAs hold a position of trust and authority, and, as such, their public and personal behaviour will be “closely scrutinized.”
Jones noted that during his inquiry, Norn did not provide a detailed description of the reasons why he travelled outside of the territory and where he went and what he did during the trip, nor did he provide copies of his self-isolation plan and positive Covid-19 test results to the integrity commissioner as requested.
Jones’ report will be tabled on the first day of the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly on October 14.
The legislature’s board of management will recommend the appointment of a sole adjudicator to the Speaker to launch an inquiry into the complaint against Norn.
That adjudicator will determine whether a hearing will be conducted privately or publicly and will submit the findings from their inquiry to the Speaker. They will either dismiss the complaint against Norn or recommend disciplinary action ranging from a fine to having the MLA’s seat declared vacant.
During the inquiry, Norn will have the opportunity to submit evidence and make submissions about whether his actions constitute a breach of the code of conduct.
Norn is currently also facing two charges under the NWT’s Public Health Act for alleged violations of the territory’s Covid-19 isolation rules, namely failing to isolate. The charges against him have not been proven in court.
Public reaction following news of Norn’s alleged isolation breach has been mixed. While the Yellowknives Dene First Nation has called for Norn to resign, Chief Louis Balsillie of the Deninu Kue First Nation in Fort Resolution – Norn’s home community – has spoken in favour of the MLA.