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Allegations of N.W.T. Legislative Assembly clerk's 'bullying' resurface in MLA's affidavit

A report that looked into alleged misconduct by the clerk of the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly deemed those allegations mostly unfounded, but claims about the clerk’s behaviour continue to resurface, this time in a legal document from MLA Jackie Jacobson.

MLA Jackie Jacobson alleges Steve Norn’s complaints about Tim Mercer contributed to Norn's removal

The N.W.T. Legislative Assembly. A report that looked into alleged misconduct by the clerk of the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly deemed allegations against Tim Mercer mostly unfounded, but claims about the clerk’s behaviour continue to resurface, this time in a legal document from MLA Jackie Jacobson. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

A report that looked into alleged misconduct by the clerk of the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly deemed those allegations mostly unfounded, but claims about the clerk's behaviour continue to resurface. 

A signed affidavit from Jackie Jacobson, the MLA for Nunakput and former Speaker of the Assembly, makes allegations that Tim Mercer manipulated members of the assembly and sought to oust Steve Norn, who was expelled from the assembly last month by his colleagues for breaking the MLA code of conduct. 

The affidavit was filed as part of the inquiry that led to Norn's expulsion. Jacobson himself could not be reached for comment. 

In the affidavit, Jacobson says "the real issue driving the complaint [against Norn] is that Mr. Norn has taken issue with the clerk's behaviour," referring to a complaint Norn filed about Mercer claiming bullying and harassment. 

"The entire complaint is part of the clerk's attempt to eliminate the threat that he perceives [in Norn]," Jacobson wrote. 

Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson has alleged Tim Mercer, the clerk for the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly, manipulated members of the assembly and sought to oust Steve Norn, who was expelled from the assembly last month by his colleagues for breaking the MLA code of conduct. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

He said it was part of a pattern by a clerk who "controls" or "seeks to control" members of the Legislative Assembly. 

Mercer's lawyer, Kristan McLeod, spoke to CBC on his behalf. She said Mercer "rejects the suggestion that he, in any way, has control over or seeks to control Members of the Legislative Assembly."

In an emailed statement, McLeod said Mercer "played no role, directly or indirectly, in the events that led to a complaint against Mr. Norn."

Neither did Mercer play a role in selecting the adjudicator presiding over Norn's public inquiry, in the evidence presented at the inquiry, or in its final recommendations. 

McLeod added Mercer "made no effort to influence how any member voted on the motion to expel Mr. Norn from the Legislative Assembly."

Opportunity to testify

In his affidavit, Jacobson also said he is "concerned" that the Quintet investigation that looked at allegations against the clerk "have been controlled by the clerk and the clerk's office." 

Jacobson said he was never given the opportunity to be interviewed by Quintet staff. Even after submitting information he says is relevant to the complaints, he received no contact "other than to indicate that [his] evidence was irrelevant."

"Others have advised me that they were similarly ignored," he said.

CBC News contacted each sitting MLA for comment.

Of those who responded, Environment Minister Shane Thompson and Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson declined to comment.

Johnson said he signed a consent form with Quintet where he agreed to keep their investigation process confidential "and only Quintet would be able to disclose their process or details therein." 

Yellowknife South MLA Caroline Wawzonek said she was not asked to provide any testimony to Quintet but did not respond to questions about whether she would have had anything to add given the opportunity. 

Katrina Nokleby, the MLA for Great Slave, also said she was not asked to testify and expressed her support for the clerk's office. 

"The clerk doesn't control me," she said, adding that if anything Mercer was an ally when she was facing a non-confidence motion and was ultimately stripped of her cabinet portfolio

Nokleby said the investigation into the clerk's conduct is part of "a concerted effort," "by people both in and outside the building to undermine this assembly."

Inuvik Boot Lake MLA Diane Archie's constituency assistant confirmed that both she and Lesa Semmler, MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, were travelling Monday and would be unable to respond. 

Violence in the assembly 

Jacobson's three-page affidavit also recalls an incident, first reported by Northern News Services Ltd. in 2020, where Mercer "verbally assaulted" Environment Minister Shane Thompson and "elbowed" him. 

Jacobson says he witnessed Mercer "challenge" the minister by saying "I will bury you, you fat f--k."

"That any staff of the assembly would speak to a member in that fashion is offensive to me, completely out of line and unwarranted for any reason," Jacobson writes. He says this reflects "the true attitude of the clerk towards members." 

Mercer's lawyer McLeod said there was an instance of disagreement between Mercer and Thompson in March 2020, but "at no time did Mr. Mercer shove, elbow, touch or otherwise make contact with Mr. Thompson. Mr. Mercer did not threaten Mr. Thompson, physically or otherwise, and he did not call him any disparaging names." 

She said Thompson and Mercer later apologized to each other for the heated exchange.

She said there is no evidence of Jacobson's claim in the Quintet investigation, in which she notes Mercer "cooperated fully." 

McLeod observed Jacobson's affidavit was drafted in support of an application from Norn's lawyer requesting the inquiry into his code of conduct be dismissed on grounds of it being "directed behind the scenes by Mr. Mercer."

That application was found to be without merit and ultimately rejected. 

CBC News asked Norn whether he felt the inquiry into his conduct was related to his complaints against Mercer.

"Absolutely, they're related," Norn said Monday. 

"I think the die was cast way back in February when I had my press conference."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natalie Pressman is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She can be reached at natalie.pressman@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @natpressman.

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