The acting clerk of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly says Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn claimed he had a political exemption from isolation rules when he visited the legislature building in April.
Glen Rutland testified on Thursday as a public inquiry resumed into whether Norn breached the MLAs’ code of conduct by allegedly breaking mandatory self-isolation and misleading the public about his compliance with public health orders.
Rutland previously told the inquiry Norn notified him on April 21 that he had tested positive for Covid-19. The following day, Rutland told Norn security records indicated he briefly visited the assembly building on April 17, a day before his isolation period ended.
Rutland further testified on Thursday that Norn “frequently changed the information he provided about his isolation,” including initially stating he had been at the assembly on April 18. Rutland said Norn then claimed he had a political exemption to isolation rules as he believed Indigenous chiefs had also been exempt.
“I questioned him on that because I had no knowledge of that and previous members had had to isolate the full time,” Rutland said.
Norn’s lawyer, Steven Cooper, questioned whether Norn may have thought he had an exemption due to the assembly’s Covid-19 protocol, which identifies MLAs as essential staff.
Rutland, however, said that policy outlines who is permitted to attend the assembly building when it is closed to the public. He noted that Norn, as chair of the assembly’s accountability and oversight committee, would have been aware that other MLAs were previously denied exemptions.
Rutland said after he told Norn he did not believe there was a political exemption to the public health order, the MLA did not raise the issue again.
Public health officer testifies
Evidence in the inquiry concluded on Thursday with testimony from Dr Andy Delli Pizzi, the territory’s deputy chief public health officer, about Covid-19.
He said a person with mild illness can transmit the disease to others for up to 10 days after symptoms appear. The communicable period can be longer for people with severe illness, he said, but the World Health Organization estimates 14 days is the maximum communicable period.
Norn, who tested positive for Covid-19 after his 14-day isolation period had ended, testified he never experienced symptoms. When and how Norn contracted Covid-19 has not been confirmed.
Delli Pizzi also testified about the transmission of Covid-19. He said if two people were in a large room wearing masks and socially distancing for less than 10 minutes, there would be low risk of transmission. He said that would have been the case when Norn visited the Legislative Assembly on April 17.
The inquiry earlier heard the only other person in the building was a security guard, who testified both he and Norn were wearing masks and stayed a minimum of five feet apart.
Cooper plans to raise privacy issue
The final day of the hearing is scheduled to take place on Tuesday morning, when lawyers are expected to present closing statements.
Cooper said he also plans to bring a motion concerning a “serious breach” of privacy and confidentiality, but did not provide further details.
Sole adjudicator Justice Ronald Barclay questioned if Cooper was referring to a newspaper article where an MLA questioned how his affidavit had made it to the clerk’s office. In that case, Barclay said, it was a public matter not covered by confidentiality and Cooper should reconsider.
“If that’s the basis of your application, there’s no substance to it at all,” he said.
Cooper said he did know the article to which Barclay referred.
“It’s disturbing, frankly, to have comments coming from the sole adjudicator presupposing certain matters based on a media report,” he said.
Barclay noted Cooper is quoted in the article.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Barclay said, adding that if Cooper does submit a motion, he will have a full and fair hearing.
NNSL reported last week that Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson was concerned the clerk’s office knew about an affidavit he had submitted to the inquiry, which he understood would only be seen by Norn’s lawyers and the inquiry commission.
Jacobson told the newspaper the affidavit contained information about what he witnessed during an incident between clerk Tim Mercer and minister Shane Thompson in 2020.
Barclay has previously ruled that allegations about the atmosphere of the Legislative Assembly and complaints against the clerk, which were the subject of a separate workplace review and investigation, are not relevant to the inquiry into whether Norn breached the code of conduct.