Inquiry into N.W.T. MLA's alleged breach of conduct back on after 3-week delay

Steven Cooper, Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn’s lawyer, pressed deputy chief public health officer for more than an hour on the transmissibility of the virus and how it guided the creation of the territory’s COVID-19 rules.

MLA's lawyer presses public health official for rationale of 14-day isolation rule

Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn, pitured in a file image. On Thursday, his lawyer spent more than an hour questioning the territory's deputy chief public health officer about how the virus is transmitted and the territory's isolation rules. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The public inquiry into Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn's alleged breach of conduct resumed Thursday, after a nearly three-week delay caused by a COVID-19 outbreak at the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife.

Norn has been at the centre of a controversy since April, stemming from his decision to visit the legislature during a mandatory 14-day period of isolation following a family trip to Alberta. Norn has apologized for breaking his self-isolation during the inquiry, saying he got his dates mixed up.

On Thursday, Norn's lawyer, Steven Cooper, called Andy Delli Pizzi, the N.W.T's deputy chief public health officer, as a witness. 

In more than an hour of questioning, Delli Pizzi was pressed about the transmissibility of the virus and how it guided the creation of the territory's COVID-19 rules. He was also asked how the public health office came up with the 14-day self-isolation order.

How long is 14 days?

Ronald Halabi, one of Norn's lawyers, attempted to highlight how the details of the self-isolation order could be confusing to residents. Halabi asked Delli Pizzi about the exact length of the 14-day self-isolation period people faced when arriving in the N.W.T. 

Delli Pizzi said it worked like a stopwatch. 

"If you needed to isolate for 14 days, the stopwatch started and when the 14 days passed, then that's when we felt that it would be safe," said Delli Pizzi.

Halabi then asked whether it made any difference if someone arrived in the morning or evening. Delli Pizzi noted it did not, explaining the self-isolation period would be complete at the end of the fourteenth day in both cases.

Later, Halabi asked Delli Pizzi about the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission in the great hall of the Legislative Assembly, which he described as "quite a large, high-ceiling, open area." 

Video camera footage presented earlier in the inquiry was sworn by security personnel to show Norn entering the Legislative Assembly building a day before his isolation period was due to end.

"In a large room with two people wearing masks and distance apart, especially for less than 10 minutes, we would actually deem that a low-risk situation for transmission of COVID," said Delli Pizzi.

Twice, government counsel Karin Taylor objected to Halabi's line of questioning "focussing on the reason why there might be an isolation period, or if the order is satisfactory or not in terms of what it requires," she said. "I don't believe that that's the issue that this inquiry is intending to assess."

"Some of the issues were potential breaches of the self-isolation plan," Halabi responded. "These all come from policies, which is why I'm trying to get to the heart of how these policies came into play."

Notice of motion

The hearing ended with a testy exchange between Norn's lawyer, Cooper, and the inquiry's adjudicator, Ronald Barclay. 

Cooper gave notice that he would bring a motion forward at the inquiry's next sitting, which concerned "a serious breach of confidentiality and privacy." 

"We are just in possession of information now and we will be using some of the intervening time to put together the appropriate material for the motion," said Cooper, who did not speak to specific details of the motion.

Barclay asked if it involved a recent media report about an MLA's concerns about confidential documents getting to the clerk's office. If it was, Barclay said, the documents in question were a matter for the public and the motion would "have no substance at all."

"It's disturbing, frankly, to have comments coming from the sole adjudicator presupposing certain matters based on a media report, the nature of which I'm unaware," said Cooper.

"You're quoted in the report," Barclay said.

"I understand that, sir. But I don't know which report to which you're referring," Cooper responded.

"You know exactly what I'm talking [about]," Barclay said.

"I don't litigate through the media," Cooper said. "In this instance sir, we're asking you to keep your mind open and allow us to make the application before prejudging the application."

"No problem with that," Barclay said. "You'll get a fair hearing. It's been my practice for 50 years."

The inquiry is scheduled to continue Tuesday morning.