Legal counsel for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn has prepared its own case in response to complaint allegations he faces.
A report prepared by Integrity Commissioner David Jones released on June 15 lays out details of his investigation of the complaint that was received on May 6 from Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson.
Caucus supported the filing of the complaint, based on alleged violations of the MLA Code of Conduct by Norn during his COVID-19 self-isolation.
Just over a week after that caucus meeting, Norn was removed from his position as chair of the standing committee on accountability and oversight.
The case against Norn
In the 137 page report, Norn admits to certain facts of the complaint, such as his visits to the legislative assembly and Racquet Club on April 17 and 18, but differs on some wider circumstances.
Jones concluded in the report that a sole adjudicator should open an inquiry into the matter. His report will be tabled on the first day of the next sitting of the assembly in October.
The complaint includes the allegation that Norn entered the legislative assembly building on April 17 when he had one day left of his 14 day self-isolation period, following a trip to Alberta.
The second allegation is that in speaking with the media he misled the public about following isolation rules.
Norn told Cabin Radio on April 23 that he followed all isolation rules and stayed home, the report said. But on May 5, the MLA told CBC he in fact broke the isolation period, adding “I did. I’ll wear that…if public health wants to do something with that, they can. Absolutely, I’ll own it.”
The case for Norn
Norn’s legal counsel responded to the allegations, asking that the complaint be dismissed because the infractions were minor or made inadvertently.
Among the facts provided by counsel, Norn admitted he entered the assembly building on April 17 to retrieve personal items and the Racquet Club the following day. No COVID-19 infections resulted from those visits, the report said, even though Norn announced just later that he and a family member had tested positive for the virus.
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Norn’s counsel went on to say the Public Health Order on travel restrictions and self-isolation protocol does not provide a definition of essential travel.
“‘Essential travel’ would include attending a seriously ill immediate family member who required Mr. Norn’s presence,” counsel is quoted as saying in the report.
Norn “erroneously but honestly believed” that the day he returned to the NWT (April 4) would be included in his isolation period and that if his public visits on April 17 and 18 were within the 14 days he “nevertheless substantially complied with spirit of the self-isolation period.”
Counsel argued the “political context” of the complaint is relevant because of an unspecified history between the complainant and Norn and “politically-motivated complaints are not made in good faith.”
Jones pointed out that Norn didn’t provide all the information he requested for the investigation, including a detailed description of the reasons why he had left the NWT, where he went, and what he did during the trip; a copy of the self-isolation plan he filed with Protect NWT; and a copy of the positive COVID-19 test results he had received.
As a next step, the assembly’s Board of Management will recommend the Speaker appoint a sole adjudicator, who will then determine if any hearing on the inquiry will be in public or in private.
Charged under Public Health Act
On the same day the commissioner’s report was released, lawyer Charles Davison appeared in a Yellowknife court on Norn’s behalf, after Norn was charged with violations of the Public Health Act. He is accused of failing to complete his self-isolation by entering the legislative assembly on April 17, one day before his isolation period was scheduled to end.
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Davison applied to have the matter deferred to July 13. The judge agreed.
Davison indicated that Norn is working to secure an Edmonton defence lawyer for his next appearance.
The maximum penalty for individuals guilty of such a charge under the Public Health Act is a fine up to $10,000.
However, Jones’ investigation has no connection with the charges Norn faces, Jones said.
Efforts to contact Norn for comment on the charge and investigation were unsuccessful.
While MLAs can access legal services provided for purposes of constituency responsibilities, personal cases such as Norn’s aren’t covered by MLA work expense allowances, Bonnell said.
Out of sight for weeks
The MLA has also been out of the public eye for weeks, after he was absent from the latest session of the legislative assembly that ran from May 27 until June 4.
“The reason for his absence was recorded as medical/illness,” assembly-spokesperson Nicole Bonnell said.
Among members of Norn’s Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh constituency asked to comment on his absences, Ernest Betsina, Ndilo chief of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) said the matter should be dealt with by the legislative assembly.
In May, Betsina and YKDFN Dettah chief Ed Sangris called for Norn’s resignation in a letter sent to Premier Caroline Cochrane, adding that they had lost faith in him as a representative of the electoral district.
Sangris was not available for comment by press time.
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Chief Louis Balsillie of the Deninu Ku’e First Nation told NNSL Media he has no comment on Norn’s absences. In May, Balsillie said the community opposed calls for Norn’s resignation.
Fort Resolution mayor Patrick Simon said he had no comment.
Attempts to reach the chief of Lutsel K’e were not successful.