N.W.T. MLA's broken isolation leads to integrity complaint

MLAs met at a caucus meeting Tuesday morning, and issued a statement in the afternoon saying they'd directed their chair, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, to file the complaint. The investigation will look into a possible breach of MLAs code of conduct or a conflict of interest.

Integrity commissioner looks into code of conduct breaches, conflicts of interest

Steve Norn, MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, confirmed to CBC News Tuesday that he broke his isolation period after travelling. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Northwest Territories MLAs are filing a complaint with the territory's integrity commissioner about MLA Steve Norn breaking his isolation period after travelling. 

MLAs met at a caucus meeting Tuesday morning, and issued a statement in the afternoon saying they'd directed their chair, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, to file the complaint. 

In a brief conversation with CBC News Tuesday, Norn confirmed he broke his two-week isolation period after travelling. 

"Yes, yes, I did. I'll wear that," he said. "If public health wants to do something with that, they can. Absolutely, I'll own it."

Norn represents the riding of Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, which encompasses the communities of Dettah, Ndilǫ, Łutselk'e, and Fort Resolution. Three of the four chiefs in those communities issued statements Tuesday with vastly different perspectives on the situation.

Letter of support, calls for resignation

In a letter addressed to Premier Caroline Cochrane, Deninu Kųę́ First Nation Chief Louis Balsillie expressed Fort Resolution's support for Norn. 

Deninu Kųę́ First Nation Chief Louis Balsillie expressed his community's support for Norn in a letter to the premier. (Submitted by Louis Balsillie)

"We do not believe his actions were deliberately negligent, but more of a situation of basic human error in this circumstance," it reads. "We do not know the facts surrounding any incidents that have been posted in the media, but do support reprimand if required."

The letter also "strongly recommends" the territory's cabinet be fair and respectful in their decision-making process. 

"Mr. Norn has performed well for his people by being vocal on issues within our region … and has always been accessible, supportive, and proactive in advocating for all people in our region," it continued. "Our community strongly supports his continued service as MLA." 

In stark contrast, the chiefs of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation have called for Norn's resignation. 

"[We] are extremely concerned by the risks posed to our members and the NWT due to selfish actions of the MLA in question," reads an email to the premier written by Dettah Chief Edward Sangris and Ndilǫ Chief Ernest Betsina. "His disregard for the COVID-19 protocols … is reprehensible." 

Łutselk'e Dene First Nation has not issued a statement about Norn's broken isolation period. 

Chief Darryl Marlowe told CBC News he was a "bit surprised" when he received a phone call Tuesday morning that some were calling for Norn's resignation. 

Łutselk'e Dene First Nation Chief Darryl Marlowe said he's consulting with elders, before commenting further on Norn's broken isolation period. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

"I don't think this is the time to be personally attacking anyone, we're dealing with a pandemic and we should be supporting one another and to try and find a positive outcome for everybody," he said. 

"I want to go out and talk to my elders, before I make any further comments or if I'm going to be, what is my next move as the chief of the community."

Complaint means 'fair process'

Norn previously identified himself and a family member as two of the five COVID-19 cases in a cluster in Yellowknife nearly two weeks ago. Norn said he had travelled to Alberta for a family emergency. Public health said Monday they have not established a connection between the cluster of five — which has been resolved — and a larger cluster of cases that has led to the closure of schools in Yellowknife, Ndilǫ, Dettah and Behchokǫ̀. 

David Phillips Jones is the current integrity commissioner for the Northwest Territories. 

He's tasked with hearing and investigating complaints about current and former territorial politicians breaching their code of conduct or being in a conflict of interest. 

After investigating, Jones could dismiss the complaint or ask an adjudicator to hold an inquiry. 

"I believe this is the right course of action," said Johnson, the chair at Tuesday's caucus meeting, in a post on Facebook. "It brings any allegations into a fair process and lets MLAs focus on the emergency at hand." 

Johnson said the process does not replace or impact an investigation that may or may not be carried out by public health officials.