N.W.T. Speaker apologizes to complainant for confidentiality breach

Days after being criticized for taking too long to address a person whose complaints had merit, the chair of the N.W.T. legislature's board of management says he has apologized.

Board of management criticized earlier this week for 'overdue' response to complainant

Frederick Blake Jr. issued a statement Friday saying he 'regrets' how long it has taken the board of management to address a confidentiality breach at the Office of the Clerk, and that the board has since apologized to person at the heart of the complaint. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The Speaker of the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly says he has apologized to a person whose complaint about a top unelected territorial official had merit. 

In August, Ottawa-based Quintet Consulting found the assembly's clerk, Tim Mercer, had breached confidentiality by speaking publicly and quoting from a previous harassment complaint against him. 

Austin Marshall, a lawyer representing the anonymous individual behind that complaint, said this week a response from the board of management — which is in charge of administering Quintet's recommendations — was "long overdue."

Frederick Blake Jr., who is chair of the board of management and also the Legislative Assembly's speaker, issued a statement to media on Friday saying the board "regrets the time it has taken to respond to the fourth complainant." He said he apologized for the delay, and for the confidentiality breach. 

"We accept the investigation's finding that there was a breach of confidentiality and have apologized to the complainant. The board has taken steps to deal with the issue internally." 

Blake Jr. said consultations with staff were delayed because of an outbreak of COVID-19 at the legislature, but would continue next week. He said he planned to release an action plan in regards to Quintet's finding before Christmas. 

That action plan has been in the works for months. 

When Mercer returned to work on Oct. 14 following an eight-month leave in which Quintet carried out its investigation, Blake Jr. issued a statement to CBC News saying such a plan was in development

Quintet also dismissed three complaints of bullying and harassment against Mercer, and said that the Office of the Clerk was not a toxic or poisoned workplace. It did note, however, that there were "important problems" that, left unaddressed, "are likely to continue to negatively affect the health of the workplace." 

Speaker addresses resurfacing complaints

Blake Jr.'s statement Friday also addressed claims about Mercer's behaviour, which resurfaced recently in an affidavit that was filed in a public inquiry into former MLA Steve Norn.

In a signed affidavit, Jackie Jacobson, the MLA for Nunakput, writes that Mercer manipulated members of the assembly and sought to oust Norn, and that he was concerned the Quintet investigation "was controlled by the clerk and the clerk's office." 

Jacobson also said he was never given the opportunity to be interviewed by Quintet staff, and revisits an incident in which he said Mercer "verbally assaulted" Environment Minister Shane Thompson and "elbowed" him. 

Mercer's lawyer, Kristan McLeod, has told CBC News her client didn't threaten Thompson physically or otherwise, doesn't control MLAs, and "played no role" in the complaint being filed against Norn. 

In his statement, Blake Jr. said the Quintet investigation reached out to everyone the four complainants wanted interviewed. "Not all MLAs were identified and contacted, but every sitting member was invited to contact the investigators if they wanted to raise concerns or participate in the investigation."

Blake Jr. also said Quintet provided an "opportunity" for the incident between Mercer and Thompson to be investigated but "no complaint was filed."

"Mr. Thompson advised me shortly after the incident that he and Mr. Mercer apologized to each other and that Mr. Thompson considered the issue to be closed." 

Blake Jr. concluded his statement by saying the assembly also considered the matters to be "closed" and that he would not comment on them further. 

"I know I speak for all members when I say we look forward to focusing all of our energy on the business of the Legislative Assembly and working together to tackle the very real issues we face as northerners," he wrote.