A still from legislature security footage played at a public inquiry shows a man alleged to be Steve Norn, front right, entering the building having been admitted by security guard Robert Braine, standing in the doorway.
The second day of a public inquiry into whether Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn breached the MLAs’ code of conduct featured a number of witnesses and a video recording allegedly showing Norn visiting the Legislative Assembly one day before his isolation period ended.
Norn is facing a conduct complaint from his fellow MLAs for allegedly breaking mandatory self-isolation after returning to the NWT from travel to Alberta in April, and “misleading the public regarding his compliance with the self-isolation order.”
On Tuesday morning, the virtual inquiry began with sole adjudicator Justice Ronald L Barclay ruling the hearing would proceed as scheduled, despite objections from Norn’s lawyer, Steven Cooper.
A day earlier, Cooper argued the inquiry should be postponed as he had been receiving evidence up until that morning and didn’t have enough time to prepare. He also suggested the timing of the hearing and resistance to having it pushed back were “politically motivated” by the fact that the Legislative Assembly resumes on October 14.
Barclay, on Tuesday, called that accusation “frankly insulting,” “without foundation,” and “entirely false.” He said much of the evidence in the inquiry is not in dispute and noted in the months leading up to the inquiry, Cooper sent 19 letters making various requests, including that the inquiry be postponed.
“This is not a difficult case, if counsel were properly focused, as the evidence is not complex and generally not in dispute,” Barclay said.
Norn, appearing by video and visibly upset, interrupted Barclay’s decision.
“Are you serious, Mr Barclay? Seriously? Wow. Wow,” he said.
“This is like a farce. This is like a legal farce. Seriously.”
Witnesses proceeded to testify beginning with Ollie Williams, head of programming and news at Cabin Radio. He spoke about a short phone interview he had with Norn on April 23. That provided the basis for an article, Williams said, where Norn was quoted as saying he had “followed all the rules,” and isolated as instructed from April 4 to 18.
Later that day, Cabin Radio published a second article stating legislature staff had been notified that Norn visited the Legislative Assembly building on April 17, a day before his isolation period expired. That article was not discussed during Tuesday’s hearing.
During questioning by Cooper, Williams indicated Norn had written “liar,” among other comments, in a chat only visible to those directly involved in the hearing broadcast. Barclay called Norn’s statements “highly improper.”
‘I’ll wear that’
CBC reporter Liny Lamberink then testified about a phone conversation she had with Norn in May, leading to an article where she reported Norn admitted breaking self-isolation. An audio recording of that phone call was played in which Norn could be heard acknowledging he had broken isolation when visiting the Legislative Assembly.
“I’ll wear that,” he said.
“If the public health want to do something with that, they can. Like, absolutely I’ll own it. I think people just think that I’m getting off scot-free but they’re still doing their investigating and all that kind of stuff.”
During cross-examination, Cooper posed a number of questions about Lamberink’s familiarity with CBC’s standards and practices. After several questions on the subject, CBC lawyer Tess Layton objected, saying that line of questioning was not within the scope of the inquiry.
“Frankly, Ms Lamberink’s journalism is not at issue here,” she said.
Barclay agreed. At that point, Cooper said he had no further questions.
“There is simply no point in asking any other questions given the limitations that the adjudicator has placed on my ability to cross-examine. I simply cannot carry out proper cross-examination function,” he said.
Finally Robert Braine, a security guard at the Legislative Assembly who was on duty on April 17, testified about Norn visiting the building that afternoon. Braine said he unlocked the door to let Norn in and then followed him upstairs to unlock the door to the MLA’s office. Braine said both he and Norn were wearing masks and remained about five feet away from each other.
According to a sign-in sheet for visitors to the Legislative Assembly, Norn arrived at 2:47pm on April 17 and left four minutes later.
Braine testified that on April 22, he was sent home from work early and told to self-isolate and get tested as he may have been exposed to Covid-19 by Norn.
Braine said he tested negative for Covid-19 on two occasions while self-isolating.
Some footage overwritten
A short video of security footage taken from the Legislative Assembly on April 17 was shown at the inquiry. The low-quality video – which had no sound – showed a security guard letting a man into the front doors of the building. Braine testified the men in the video were himself and Norn.
The video does not depict the man alleged to be Norn leaving the building.
Sergeant-at-Arms Brian Thagard testified that’s because he was initially asked only to retrieve video showing Norn had entered the Legislative Assembly building on April 17. By the time he was asked for video showing Norn leaving that day, Thagard said, that footage had been overwritten. According to Thagard, the video system at the legislature overwrites footage every 16 to 21 days.
Cooper noted there was a discrepancy between the time stamp on the video and the time that Norn was reported to have entered the legislature on the sign-in sheet. Thagard said there has been an ongoing time stamp issue with the legislature’s security video system, but he was confident in Braine’s record of when Norn entered the building.
Cooper has yet to cross-examine Braine.
The inquiry is set to resume at 9:30am on Wednesday.