Unemployed and with no job prospects, former MLA Steve Norn claimed financial hardship after pleading guilty to breaking a Public Health Act law almost one year ago.
Norn’s case had been set for a possible two-day trial after he opted to fight the two tickets, which carried a possible total of $3,450 in fines. Court in Yellowknife was delayed by 30 minutes on Wednesday as Norn decided to plead guilty to one ticket with the second withdrawn.
Ultimately, he was fined a total of $1,380 and given a year to pay the sum.
At what turned into a sentencing hearing, Norn criticized the territorial government’s Covid-19 compliance task force, created in the spring of 2020.
“The Covid enforcement team were very, very vicious towards my family … they harassed my loved ones,” said Norn, who was charged on June 7, 2021 for violating a self-isolation plan two months earlier.
“They made my little girl cry … she thought they were monsters.
“We were repeatedly surveilled, we were surveilled … it was disgusting.”
Norn said the harassment stopped after he appealed “directly” to Premier Caroline Cochrane’s office.
“So much resources, time and money have been put into this political show, and I’m hoping the court also sees that this [the legal proceedings] is just part of that. I think … that probably the territories, people in the territory, just want us to pick up the pieces and rebuild,” he said.
In a unanimous vote, MLAs on November 24 voted to declare Norn’s Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh seat vacant after most of them criticized what they called his “pattern of toxic behaviour” and his breaches of their code of conduct.
That followed a seven-day public inquiry, streamed online, in which a sole adjudicator recommended the Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh seat be declared vacant.
Norn failed to reclaim the seat in a February 9 by-election, in which he finished third behind Richard Edjericon.
Legal fees gave Norn ‘huge debt’
Defence lawyer Jay Bran said Norn and his children faced anger and bullying from the public after his case received extensive media exposure.
Norn said he now is burdened with “huge amounts of debt” from legal fees.
Bran said Norn violated his post-travel self-isolation plan – the 14-day period set to expire at midnight on April 18, 2021 – as he needed to pick up some papers at the Legislative Assembly building on April 17.
He tested positive for Covid-19 days after the isolation plan expired.
“Why was he there? So that he could be prepared when he goes back to work to serve this community, to serve this jurisdiction,” said Bran, noting the legislature wasn’t in session and the only person he spoke to was a security guard.
“As a result of that, and some other allegations, Mr Norn is now unemployed.”
Bran told the court Norn “is struggling to make ends meet” and his life “has been dragged through the mud.”
The lawyer said the past year had had a “significant negative effect” on his client and his family had the victims been of name-calling, bullying and threats.
“He’s been convicted in the court of public opinion – and, more importantly, by the inquiry itself, and in a vote by his colleagues at the Legislative Assembly,” said Bran. “He is now unemployed … and with very little prospect of employment in the near future.”
Bran asked the court “to take all that into consideration when trying to make the very difficult decision of what the appropriate penalty is for an individual who’s already gone through so much as a result of this.”
‘Must have been aware’
Vancouver lawyer John Cliffe – an expert in regulatory prosecutions – was brought in by the territory to avoid any conflicts of interest.
He asked Deputy Judge Lloyd Stang, a Saskatchewan jurist brought in for this case, to impose the $1,500 face value of the ticket plus a $225 victim impact surcharge.
Cliffe told the court the Department of Health and Social Services has to date issued 47 summary offence tickets for violations of self-isolation plans. Norn is the only recipient so far to fight a ticket in court.
“Mr Norn must have been aware of the mandatory nature of complying … and that the plan is unambiguous,” said Cliffe.
Judge Stang said that as Norn “was a sitting MLA for the Northwest Territories” at the time, he “ought to have known about the importance of complying with public health orders – and following those orders to the letter.”
Stang imposed a $1,200 fine plus a surcharge of $180, for a total of $1,380. He gave Norn until February 28, 2023 to pay. He can at that time apply for an extension if he is still in financial difficulty.
The judge also noted Norn may apply to work off the fine through a program operated by the John Howard Society.