COVID-19 detection at N.W.T. Legislature delays public inquiry into MLA's conduct

Day five of MLA Steve Norn's public inquiry was cut short Friday. A positive case of COVID-19 was detected at the Legislative Assembly, forcing the technical team, court clerk and interpreter to be sent home and arrange for testing. The hearing will resume on Friday Oct. 15, 2021.

On site inquiry staff sent home, inquiry will resume on Oct. 15

A positive case of COVID-19 was detected at the Legislative Assembly Friday, causing day five of MLA Steve Norn's public inquiry to be cut short. The hearing will resume on Friday Oct. 15, 2021. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Day five of the public inquiry looking into MLA Steve Norn's alleged breach of the Legislative Assembly's code of conduct was cut short as inquiry staff were sent home after a positive case of COVID-19 was detected in the Legislature. 

Though the inquiry is being carried out virtually, the court clerk, technical team and interpreter were present in the legislature and had to be sent home to isolate and arrange for testing. 

It was expected to be the last day of evidence in the public inquiry, which is examining whether or not the MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh breached the Legislative Assembly's code of conduct by breaking his mandatory self-isolation period and making inaccurate statements to the press about it.

Before the hearing adjourned, Maurice Laprairie, counsel to the sole adjudicator, was questioning Glen Rutland, the acting clerk of the Legislative Assembly.  

After Norn was advised of his positive COVID-19 test, Rutland testified that he asked the Legislative Assembly's sergeant-at-arms Brian Thagard to check the building's security footage "as a due diligence."

"My comment to the sergeant-at-arms was that 'I'm sure he hasn't been here, but let's double check,'" Rutland said at Friday's hearing.

Norn had returned to the N.W.T. from a trip to Alberta on April 4 and was supposed to isolate for 14 days, as per the territory's public health measures.

Thagard, who testified Tuesday, then reported that Norn had in fact been to the Legislative Assembly on April 17, according to security camera footage. 

MLA Steve Norn said that visiting the Legislative Assembly and Racquet Club during his mandatory isolation period was a result of confusion and "mixed messages" from public health. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

On April 20, following an advisory from the office of the chief public health indicating the virus had been detected in Yellowknife wastewater and that those who had been self-isolating should get a COVID-19 test, Norn got tested. The next day, he got a call indicating his test came back positive.

Rutland was involved in helping Norn prepare his media statement, released April 22, 2021, advising that he had tested positive for COVID-19.  

Rutland said he expressed concern over Norn's saying he isolated as instructed. 

"Mr. Norn made a comment that he had followed all the rules, I advised Mr. Norn that he could not say that because he did attend the Legislative Assembly on April 17," Rutland said. 

After a discussion on whether or not to indicate in the statement that Norn had visited the Legislature, Rutland said Norn "didn't want that in there." 

However, Norn went on to tell Cabin Radio in an article published on April 23 he "followed all the rules" and was "up front with everybody." Less than two weeks later, he admitted to CBC News that he broke his isolation.

On Thursday, Norn indicated that he made a mistake in visiting the Legislative Assembly on April 17, and the Racquet Club on April 18, during the final days of his mandatory isolation period. 

He said he had the dates of his isolation period mixed up and apologized for the error. 

The hearing will resume on Friday, Oct. 15 with Norn's lawyer Steven Cooper's cross examination of Rutland. 

Still to come in the hearing are Cooper and Laprairie's closing arguments and the recommendations of the sole adjudicator, Ronald L. Barclay.

In a press release Thursday, the speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Frederick Blake Jr., announced the assembly would reconvene on Oct. 21, 2021.