A public inquiry into whether Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn breached the MLAs’ code of conduct started without him, with the adjudicator calling his non-appearance a “further delay tactic.”
Norn is facing a complaint from his fellow MLAs for allegedly breaking self-isolation after returning to the NWT from travel to Alberta in April, then “misleading the public” about his actions.
The virtual inquiry was set to begin at 10am on Monday, but when it started streaming live across the NWT legislature’s video platforms, Norn wasn’t there.
Norn’s lawyer, Steven Cooper, initially refused to publicly answer questions about why his client wasn’t present.
He said the information could be “potentially harmful and prejudicial.” After speaking to adjudicator Justice Ronald L Barclay in private, however, Cooper revealed that Norn had an unspecified “emergent medical condition” and needed a doctor’s note to determine whether he could participate in the hearing.
Following a three-hour long break, Cooper said he hadn’t heard from Norn since he indicated he was headed to the doctor’s office. Barclay determined the hearing would proceed as scheduled, whether Norn attended or not.
“It appears that Mr. Norn’s non-appearance and allegations of an emergent medical condition is not supported to date by any evidence that you have submitted and leads me to the inescapable conclusion that this is a further delaying tactic that I will not countenance,” Barclay told Cooper.
Barclay noted that in months leading up to the inquiry, Cooper submitted 19 letters requesting to delay proceedings, disqualify Barclay’s lawyers, or have Barclay removed as sole adjudicator.
On Monday, Cooper refuted allegations of delay tactics and passionately argued the inquiry should be pushed back as his office had been receiving evidence up until that morning, leaving them without enough time to prepare. He called the inquiry a “headlong rush to judgement” and suggested the reason his delay requests were denied were politically motivated by the fact that the Legislative Assembly resumes on October 14.
“This does not feel like an inquisition … but rather it feels like a prosecution,” he said.
“To allow this hearing to go on is to ensure that the results will be considered unreliable and unconscionable.”
Barclay’s lawyer Maurice Laprarie said evidence had been turned over to Cooper as soon as he received it, adding it was well-organized and fulsome. He noted Cooper sometimes did not confirm he had received that evidence until days after it was sent, or not at all.
“If there was any diversion from the preparation of the case it lies squarely on my friends shoulders for his 19 separate missiles of applications and correspondence which were, with respect, not directed at resolving this matter but rather delaying the matter as much as possible and trying to throw a wrench into the proceedings,” he said.
Barclay said he will make a decision whether to postpone the hearing on Tuesday at 9:30 am.
Caucus chair Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson filed the complaint against Norn to the NWT legislature’s integrity commissioner in May, after allegations that Norn breached isolation were made public by Cabin Radio.
Norn asked that the complaint be dismissed, but in June, Commissioner David Phillip Jones recommended that an inquiry be held by a sole adjudicator to determine whether Norn had breached the code of conduct.
In a 137-page report, Jones stated that dismissing the complaint would “undermine the integrity, reputation and stature of all members and the public’s estimation of the Legislative assembly” and make the code of conduct for MLAs “ineffective.”
Once the hearing concludes, Barclay may dismiss the complaint or conclude that Norn did breach the MLAs’ code of conduct. In the latter case, he can recommend penalties ranging from a fine up to $25,000, a suspension up to 30 days, or a declaration that Norn’s assembly seat be vacated. MLAs would ultimately have to vote on whatever course of action Barclay recommends.
Separately, Norn is facing two charges under the territory’s public health act for allegedly breaking self-isolation.
Norn pleaded not guilty to the charges in August.