The final document released after an investigation into the NWT legislative clerk’s office provides insight into a messy internal battle that ultimately played out in the media.
On Monday, the legislature’s board of management released the full investigation report into misconduct allegations against longtime clerk Tim Mercer. The investigation report is the final major document to surface, following a summary of findings in August and a review report earlier this month that separately assessed concerns about the legislature workplace.
The investigation report, which contains an array of redactions to protect privacy, focuses on specific allegations of harassment or misconduct against Mercer. It details how private workplace complaints became “highly public” amid heightened emotions, increasingly strained professional relationships, and leaks of information.
Allegations against Mercer came to a head in February when Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn held a news conference after the CBC and newspaper group NNSL published complaints by former research advisor April Taylor and then-chief electoral officer Nicole Latour. Norn accused Mercer of bullying, demeaning, and terrorizing staff and MLAs for more than a decade, calling for more complainants to come forward and for Mercer to resign.
At the time, Norn and Mercer were in mediation – which ultimately failed – after the pair had several disagreements. Norn accused Mercer of acting aggressively and in an intimidating manner, while Mercer accused Norn of harassment. Mere hours after the news conference, Norn said he received a letter from the NWT’s integrity commissioner stating he had breached the privacy of those mediation sessions.
In an interview with Quintet, the Ontario-based consultant that produced the investigation report, Norn said he didn’t recall anything about mediation being confidential and held the news conference as mediation was not making progress.
The MLA told Quintet he wanted to be a voice for others and accused Mercer of making “slanderous remarks” and crossing both ethical and criminal lines. Norn felt he had been attacked in the media and his family negatively affected, stating “this started because of Mr Mercer.”
While the details of many of Norn and Mercer’s tense interactions leading up to mediation are redacted, the report states that in one incident, Mercer admitted speaking in a “defensive tone” and pointing his finger at Norn. In another, Norn was upset that Speaker Frederick Blake Jr – after consulting the clerk – determined he was not eligible to put his name forward for cabinet to replace outgoing minister Katrina Nokleby.
The report concludes there was a “lack of professional decorum” on both sides, but the pair had apologized to one another and Mercer’s conduct was not “significantly aggressive or sufficiently severe to have created an intimidating environment” for Norn.
Quintet decided Norn’s allegations were not founded and took the unusual step of raising concerns about his credibility and the “tenor and manner” in which he participated in the investigation.
The report stated Norn’s evidence was sometimes “exaggerated” and “perhaps even misleading,” going on to raise questions about his motives and the decision to make his concerns public.
Latour, whose allegations were also deemed not founded, said she did not know who leaked a letter she wrote that claimed Mercer was undermining the independence of her office and trying to remove her as chief electoral officer. Latour said that was never meant to be public and she had not intended to participate in an investigation of the clerk.
When the allegations against Mercer became public, the clerk issued his own statement that characterized the complaints as a coordinated and unfair “media circus” and claimed previous investigations into his conduct had concluded harassment allegations were unfounded.
Quintet, though, upheld a complaint from an unidentified former staff member that Mercer breached confidentiality by publicly referring to those investigations.
“I issued my statement in haste, feeling that I needed to act immediately to protect my reputation,” Mercer told Quintet. “While I now regret having done so, at the time I felt I was left with no alternative but to defend myself against an inaccurate and damaging portrait of events being fed to the media in real time.”
Quintet noted that while Mercer’s explanation of his actions was “compelling,” he had not accurately represented the results of those previous investigations in his statement at the time. (Mercer had said “virtually all” allegations against him were dismissed. At least two of an unspecified number of earlier allegations were founded, Quintet reported.)
Had the complainant still been a staff member, Quintet added, Mercer’s actions would have been considered personal harassment.
The report released on Monday concluded by stating that the “difficult and complex situation” had a significant impact on staff and a lot of work lay ahead to restore the workplace and strained relationships.
Earlier documents had revealed rising tensions between NWT MLAs and legislature staff, division in the office of the clerk, and unresolved communication and labour relations issues. Quintet concluded, however, that the clerk’s office was not toxic or poisoned in “an overall broad sense” and three of four misconduct allegations against Mercer were deemed not founded.
Norn, Latour, and their lawyer have criticized the investigation as “irrelevant” and the “by-product of a dysfunctional and corrupt system,” prompting a rebuke from Speaker Blake. Mercer, meanwhile, said he was “pleased” with the findings and accepted them.