MLA admits he broke isolation, has threatening Facebook message excluded from evidence

Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn said his breach of a mandatory isolation period was due to confusion over when his isolation period ended. A threatening Facebook message he appears to have sent colleagues Sunday was excluded from consideration.

Steve Norn said breaching isolation a result of confusion, inconsistent public health messages

Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn testified on Zoom during day four of the public inquiry looking into whether or not he breached the Legislative Assembly's code of conduct by not self-isolating and then making inaccurate statements to the media about it. (screenshot)

Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn said he got his dates mixed up.

Testifying on day four of the public inquiry into whether or not he breached the Legislative Assembly's code of conduct in breaking his mandatory self-isolation period and making inaccurate statements to the press about it, Norn was asked about inconsistencies in his statements to public health staff.

He said he thought his isolation period following a trip to Alberta from which he came back on April 4, was complete on April 18, 2021. He said he made a mistake. 

"That was an oversight on my part and I apologize for that," he said.

"Hindsight is always 20/20. If I could do it over again, I would have contacted public health to get some clarifications because a lot of their messaging, to be honest, was confusing."

Norn said he realized his error after a call with Glen Rutland, deputy clerk at the Legislative Assembly. 

'That's when it clicked'

On April 20, Norn took a COVID-19 test 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. The next day, he got a call indicating his test came back positive.

After that, Norn said he received "a barrage of calls," Rutland's among them. 

Norn recalls telling Rutland he had followed public health instructions and isolated appropriately after returning from his trip to Alberta. Rutland told Norn that there was video footage of him visiting the Legislative Assembly on April 17, when he was supposed to be isolating. 

"That's when it clicked," Norn said. 

Norn was the only witness during Thursday's hearing, remaining on the stand from morning to late afternoon. 

He said that his visiting the legislature on April 17 and the Racquet Club on April 18 was a result of "confusing messaging from public health," and that he thought, at the time that his actions were within proper public health guidelines.

'I didn't consciously mislead the public'

Giving incorrect dates about those visits to contact tracing investigation staff, was a result of mental exhaustion and sleep deprivation, he said.   

"I want to make it clear I didn't consciously mislead the public."

Norn describes a stressful isolation period where he was receiving calls from family members, from the media and from his constituents. He said he was receiving threats through text messages and social media and wasn't sleeping much at the time. 

"I was mentally fried," he said. "It just feels like a blur around that time for me." 

Asked by Maurice Laprairie, counsel to the sole adjudicator, under cross examination if Norn sees "the risk [he] created by breaking [his] isolation and going to the Leg[islature] on that day."

Norn said, "in hindsight, yes."

Laprairie continued: "Do you think you misled the public when you told Mr. Williams you followed all the rules and were upfront with everyone," referring to a Cabin Radio article from April 23

Norn said that, "at the time no, but now, when we see all the dust settled, it appears that way on its face." 

'Threatening' message to caucus members

At the start of Thursday's proceedings, Laprairie sought to address a Facebook message that Norn sent to other members of the caucus ahead of the public inquiry. 

He read out a message sent on Sunday evening at 6:43 p.m. that Norn wrote in a Facebook group chat with 16 other MLAs and two staff members.

On the evening before the hearing began, Norn wrote:

"I just want to say f--k you for making my loved ones cry. You squeezed my heart. Whoever backed this, I'm coming for you."

Laprairie characterized the message as threatening and said it raises concerns "regarding the obstruction of this inquiry process and any MLAs who would've been called to give evidence." 

Norn's lawyer, Steven Cooper, argued the Facebook message should not be used as evidence. He questioned where Laprairie obtained the information, calling it "a document of unknown origin," and "back channel communication." 

Cooper said that without more context, it wouldn't be fair to speculate what Norn was referring to in the message and that the inquiry would have to hear from several of the message's recipients to properly take it into evidence. 

"It doesn't matter what Norn intended in the sending of the document," Cooper said.

"If you allow this to be tendered and allow Norn to be cross examined about it, you cannot make a decision in all fairness and carry out your duties unless we hear from some, if not all, of the MLAs."

Ronald L. Barclay, the sole adjudicator overseeing the hearing, agreed. 

The hearing continues Friday morning with final testimonies for Barclay's consideration.

Cooper and Laprairie will then present their closing arguments next week. 

At the end of the hearing, Barclay only has power to make recommendations to the Legislative Assembly, which it can choose to either accept or reject.