WHITEHORSE, Yukon - The wealthy Canadian couple who snuck into a remote Yukon community to receive COVID-19 vaccinations intended for vulnerable First Nations residents were fined $1,150 each and won’t get any jail time.
Former casino mogul Rodney Baker, 55, and his wife Ekaterina Baker, a 32-year-old actor, flew into Whitehorse in January, where they chartered a private plane to take them 450 kilometres northwest to Beaver Creek, a community of approximately 100 people, most of whom belong to White River First Nation. In January, vaccines were scarce in Canada, and were prioritized for health care workers and some vulnerable communities, such as First Nations.
Once in the community, the couple misrepresented themselves to members of the mobile vaccination clinic, claiming to be employees of the local motel. After they received a dose of the Moderna vaccine they flew back to Whitehorse on their chartered plane.
Under Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act and as requested by both the Crown and Bakers’ lawyers, the Bakers received the maximum fines but no jail time, for failing to isolate and failing to follow a travel declaration.
The couple made an appearance via video call Wednesday, Ekaterina in a white collared blouse next to Rodney in a black jacket and glasses. They sat stone-faced throughout the proceedings and said nothing when given the opportunity to address the court.
At the time of the incident, Rodney Baker was CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. The company, which owns 20 casinos across Canada, was already facing scrutiny in an inquiry into money laundering in British Columbia. When the vaccine case came to light, Baker resigned. His position netted him $10.6 million in salary and compensation in 2019.
Ekaterina Baker, an actor with minor roles in Fatman and Chickfight, had previously posted about the importance of social distancing and “staying home” to protect “the community,” including a short video in which she lists all the people she is staying home for through her Instagram account. The account has since been deactivated.
Crown attorney Kelly McGill noted the couple’s actions were clearly premeditated and involved “a high level of deception,” as Rodney had booked the charter flight and the couple had registered for the vaccine clinic before their arrival in the territory.
With flights, hotels, and associated expenses, the Crown estimates it cost the Bakers $10,000 to obtain that first shot, McGill said.
Chief judge Michael Cozens said he knew this was a “very emotional case” and some people would be disappointed by the lack of jail time.
Cozens said mitigating factors in the case included the Bakers’ quick, voluntary submission of COVID-19 tests following the charges, which came back negative. No one was infected as a result of the Baker’s actions, although they inflicted “psychological” harm on the community, Cozens said, likening the incident to someone being charged with drunk driving versus being charged with drunk driving causing bodily harm.
The Bakers also made a “good faith” donation of $5,000 each to COVAX, the worldwide alliance for equitable vaccine access, McGill said.
In an impact statement, community members described the “deceitful” and “entitled” actions of the Bakers as “white privilege,” “irresponsible,” and “extractive.”
Janet VanderMeer, White River’s COVID-19 interagency team lead who read the statement, said the Bakers’ actions had caused residents “anxiety and many sleepless nights,” because it was unknown at the time if they were carrying the virus.
VanderMeer said the Bakers were in the room with her and her 89-year-old mother—who, like many of the older community residents, is a residential school survivor—along with other elders while being vaccinated.
Speaking on behalf of White River Chief Bessie Chassé afterwards, VanderMeer said Chassé is “just glad it’s done” and believes the Bakers “just didn’t have an understanding” about her community and the impact of their actions. She was, however, “disappointed but not surprised” by the submission of a joint deposition, which she described as the Yukon government “taking the easy way out.”
“I feel there should have been a jail sentence for sure,” she said.
The Bakers have yet to publicly apologize for their actions, which many residents of Beaver Creek have called for.
“The community of Beaver Creek feels violated by the actions of the Bakers. They have called for an apology and they deserve one,” Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said in a press release following the sentencing.
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