The MLAs of the Northwest Territories didn’t make it to the conduct-complaint hearing for their colleague, Steve Norn, before calling his behaviour into question on their first day back in the House, Nov. 22.
Thebacha MLA Freida Martselos started the conversation about Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn’s conduct by raising a point of privilege about a “threatening” group message he sent to all MLAs and two Legislative Assembly staff members Oct. 3.
Martselos said her office at the legislature is down the hall from Norn’s and she felt unsafe as an individual far from her support network in Fort Smith.
“Whoever backed this, I’m coming for you” Norn allegedly wrote in reference to the conduct complaint hearing that was to begin the next morning.
Yellowknife MLA Kevin O’Reilly says he emailed the commander of the RCMP in the Northwest Territories to share his concerns about the message the same day.
O’Reilly said during the first day of the latest sitting of the 19th Legislative Assembly that the commander called him back “within minutes” to check on the well-being of the MLA for Frame Lake’s family.
He said he spoke to an investigating police officer on Oct. 7.
Premier Caroline Cochrane said Norn failed to uphold the code of conduct and harassed every member of the legislative assembly. She said, as a woman, she found Norn’s message particularly troubling.
Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said she was present on more than one occasion when she heard Norn use “abusive” language toward legislative assembly staff at a time when he had started a public “war” with the Office of the Clerk and House clerk Tim Mercer.
She said public servants should not have to endure threats like the Norn’s which she said disrupted the recipients’ work duties.
“They have to take that threat seriously,” she said.
Wawzonek, a former minister of Justice, said she understood from the message that “should we continue to discharge our duties … MLA Norn will come for us when he disagrees,” she said. “I believe the intent was intimidate us emotionally and psychologically.”
Health Minister Julie Green said she thought she had made herself a target by calling for Norn’s resignation weeks prior.
“The intention of the member was to intimidate me and everyone else” in the Facebook chat, she said. “We have not seen him take any responsibility for his statement.”
Green said Norn had also “threatened staff with the same language of ‘I’m coming for you.’
“This is not a one-off,” she said; adding that his “unbecoming” behaviour has distracted MLAs from their jobs.
Caitlin Cleveland said threats against public officials doubled in the United States last year.
“This building and its elected leaders are not above the law,” she said.
R.J. Simpson said that Norn’s comments wouldn’t be acceptable in any workplace. He said they represent as clear-a-case of breach-of-privilege as he’s ever seen.
“We have, for the first time, a legislature that is made up by a majority of women,” he said. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable that a comment like that directed at a group of women might be taken a certain way.”
Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler said she didn’t want to come to Yellowknife after Norn’s “threat.”
“I have never felt my safety was compromised coming here [to Yellowknife] until that,” she said, her voice shaking.
“I have been unable to participate fully in committee meetings for fear that I may say something wrong and put myself or my family” in danger.
In response, Norn said his message was taken out of context.
“To intimidate was never my intent,” he said. “It appears what I said is being used as a political tool.
“Honestly, I think we’ve spent enough time on this. I just want to move on and continue on. What I have experienced because of all this … you know if there’s any price that has to be paid, I’ve paid twice over.”
Speaker of the House, Frederick Blake Jr., said he would take the matter under advisement as he sent the House into a brief recess.
The day’s drama may not be over yet, though. Members are expected to receive the sole adjudicator’s disposition — in other words, the judgement of Ronald Barclay — who conducted Norn’s conduct complaint hearing last month, during this sitting and possibly today, Nov. 22.
Barclay found, after those proceedings, that by breaching his self-isolation protocol and misleading public health investigators and MLAs about it earlier this year, Norn is “unfit” to hold public office and should be unseated as the MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh.
This story will be updated.