Norn inquiry focuses on clerk's advice to MLA

In cross-examination Thursday morning, Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn’s lawyer focused on the role deputy clerk Glen Rutland played in a press release Norn sent to the media leaving out his visit to the Legislative Assembly.

Deputy clerk tells inquiry it was Norn’s decision to leave out Legislative Assembly visit in press release

MLA for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh Steve Norn pictured at the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly. On Thursday, the inquiry into Norn's alleged breach of conduct focused on the advice he received from Glen Rutland, then acting clerk of the legislative assembly, about a news release Norn sent out. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

At the public inquiry into Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn's alleged breach of conduct Thursday, his lawyer, Steven Cooper, cross-examined the deputy clerk of the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly on the advice he provided Norn about going public with breaking his self-isolation.

Cooper pressed Glen Rutland on the nature and timing of his conversations with Norn surrounding the MLA's visit to the Legislature before his 14-day self-isolation period was over. As acting clerk of the legislative assembly at the time, Rutland's role involved offering advice to regular MLAs.

Cooper focused on details included in an April 22 press release Norn sent out and which Rutland helped him prepare. At the time, media, including the CBC, were preparing news stories about Norn's apparent violation of COVID-19 rules.

The inquiry is being held in response to a complaint filed by Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson on behalf of caucus that Norn allegedly breached the Legislative Assembly's code of conduct when he broke his mandatory self-isolation period after travelling to Alberta and made inaccurate statements in the press about it.

In phone and text conversations, Rutland said Norn did not want to include the fact that he had visited the legislative assembly on April 17, a day before his self-isolation period was set to end.

"Ultimately, what I do recall is just saying that Mr. Norn could not say that he followed the rules because, in fact, we knew he had not," said Rutland.

The press release Norn sent out to the media stated he had tested positive for COVID-19 and that he had filed a self-isolation plan with the intent of following it.

When Rutland was asked repeatedly by Cooper if he thought the press release told "the truth," he said he thought it was accurate, but admitted he "was not convinced it was the whole truth."

Rutland said that in his discussions with Norn, the MLA had frequently changed details. This included Norn's mistaken belief that he had a political exemption from COVID-19 rules and also that he had visited the legislature on another date.

Cooper later asked Rutland whether he directly advised Norn to include or exclude the April 17 visit to the legislature.

"I asked whether he wanted that included and Mr. Norn indicated that he did not," said Rutland.

He said he did advise Norn not to state that he had followed the COVID-19 rules. 

"Mr. Norn's decision to issue the press statement was his," said Rutland. "It was his decision to identify that he had been diagnosed with COVID-19. It was his decision not to include that he was at the legislative assembly,"

When asked whether he had the authority to approve or refuse the final version of a press release issued on N.W.T Legislative Assembly letterhead, Rutland said it would be "unusual" in his role to intervene and prevent a press release from being issued.

"Normally, I would not see a member's individual press statement. I was involved in the preparation of this one at the request of Mr. Norn."

The inquiry continues on Nov. 2.