Warning: The following article contains explicit language as heard during the proceedings of a public inquiry.
The night before a public inquiry began into whether he breached the MLAs’ code of conduct, Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn sent a “threatening” message to a group chat featuring 16 other MLAs and two legislature staff members.
Maurice Laprairie, counsel to sole adjudicator Justice Ronald Barclay, said on Thursday morning he planned to question Norn about a message the MLA sent to a Facebook messenger group called “caucus” on Sunday night.
According to Laprairie, the message Norn sent by phone at 6:43pm read: “I just want to say fuck you for making my loved ones cry. You squeezed my heart. Whoever backed this, I’m coming for you.”
Laprairie said the adjudicator was made aware of the message the following day, the first day of the inquiry hearing.
“The content of the message is threatening and raises concerns regarding the obstruction of this inquiry process and possible intimidation of any MLAs who would have been called to give evidence,” he said.
Norn’s lawyer, Steven Cooper, argued the message shouldn’t be allowed as evidence in the inquiry, however, as it was outside the terms of reference. Those terms limit the scope of the inquiry to whether Norn broke self-isolation in April and misled the public about his compliance with the self-isolation order. Cooper noted several of his applications and questions were denied on the basis of those terms of references.
Cooper went on to question who provided the message to the adjudicator. He argued the subject of Norn’s message was unclear, meaning its relationship to the inquiry could not be readily determined.
“Clearly, Mr Norn’s angry about something. What is ‘this’?” he questioned.
“Could be anything.”
Cooper said if the message were allowed as evidence, all or at least some of those who received it would be required to testify to determine how they interpreted it. That, he said, would delay the conclusion of the hearing.
After consideration, Barclay determined the message would not be permitted as evidence.
Caucus consists of all 19 members of the Legislative Assembly, including the premier, speaker, and ministers. Caucus meetings are confidential.
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson filed the conduct complaint against Norn to the legislature’s integrity commissioner in May on behalf of caucus as its chair. In June, integrity commissioner David Phillip Jones recommended the complaint be heard by way of a public inquiry before a sole adjudicator.
Lawyer allowed to cross-examine Norn
Barclay ruled on Thursday that Laprairie would be allowed to cross-examine Norn rather than conduct direct examination as he has with other witnesses at the inquiry. The distinction means Laprairie, whose role is to be impartial, will be able to ask Norn questions that are “adversarial in nature.”
Laprairie requested that he be allowed to do so as Norn had “displayed hostility” toward both himself and other witnesses in the inquiry. He noted that during questioning prior to the hearing, Norn had refused to answer any questions related to the terms of reference.
Laprairie also pointed to several incidents during the inquiry. They included Norn telling Laprairie, “I don’t want to hear your voice;” interrupting the testimony of Ollie Williams – head of programming and news at Cabin Radio – to write “liar” in the broadcast’s comment function; and saying, “Can you guys, like, not get your crap together?” when Barclay was required to repeat the first few minutes of his ruling after the live stream had failed to initially broadcast on Tuesday morning.
Cooper said on Thursday he was given no notice of Lapriarie’s intent to cross-examine his client, calling it an “ambush.”
“Our system relies on notice. It’s something that we’ve been complaining about since the beginning. We haven’t had proper notice and here’s just another example,” he said.
Cooper also argued there was insufficient evidence to support the request. He said Norn was not being “hostile” nor an “adverse witness” when he refused to answer Laprairie’s questions prior to the inquiry, but was complying with objections Cooper had made as his lawyer.
Barclay, however, said he had conducted “quite a number of inquiries” and had “never had a situation where there are so much powerful reasons” to permit cross-examination. He said he had outlined Laprairie’s right to cross-examine at the start of the inquiry and the request should have come as no surprise to Cooper.
“All we’re trying to do is find out what is the truth, and I think the public and all the parties are entitled to have the benefit of experienced counsel cross-examining your client,” he said.
The inquiry continues on Thursday with Norn’s testimony.