WHITEHORSE, Yukon - A wealthy Canadian couple have been charged after allegedly lying about their residency and occupation to receive doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine meant for largely First Nation residents of a remote Yukon community.
Businessman Rodney Baker, 55, and his wife Ekaterina Baker, a 32-year-old actor, flew into Whitehorse last week, 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.
Once in the community, the couple allegedly misrepresented themselves to members of the mobile vaccination clinic, claiming to be employees of the local motel. After they received the shot they flew back to Whitehorse on their chartered plane.
Their presence in the community aroused suspicion and someone called in a tip to Yukon authorities. Investigating officers tracked them down eventually in the Whitehouse airport, Yukon’s Minister of Community Services John Streicker said.
The Bakers each received two charges under Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for failing to self-isolate and follow a travel declaration. The maximum possible penalty under the act is $500 plus a $75 surcharge per charge—meaning a maximum of $1,150 each—and/or up to six months in jail.
Rodney Baker resigned as CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation on Sunday. The company, which owns 20 casinos across Canada, was already facing scrutiny in an inquiry into money laundering in British Columbia. Baker’s former position netted him $10.6 million in salary and compensation in 2019.
White River Chief Angela Demit said she was “deeply concerned by the actions of individuals who put our Elders and vulnerable people at risk to jump the line for selfish purposes.” She noted the First Nation community was selected for priority vaccination due to its high concentration of elderly people, limited access to healthcare, and remote location.
The First Nation has also expressed frustration with the Yukon government as it only found out about the incident when CBC North broke the story on Friday.
Yukon Community Services Minister Streicker said he was “outraged” by the alleged deception, and could be audibly heard fighting back tears in an interview with VICE World News.
Yukon, which has had a low number of cases per capita compared to the rest of Canada, requires anyone entering the territory to quarantine for 14 days.
The risk to the community, Streicker noted, has been deemed “very low” by Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer, but the “deception” is a low blow.
“It’s the height of selfishness,” he said.
“White River First Nation is particularly concerned with the callous nature of these actions…as they were in blatant disregard of the rules which keep our community safe during this unprecedented global pandemic,” White River First Nation said in a press release.
White River said the penalties were insufficient considering the gravity of the incident, and called on the government to “pursue a more just punishment.”
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.
The RCMP is investigating the incident.
As for how the Bakers managed to access the vaccine when they were not residents of the territory—the couple have out-of-territory health cards from B.C. and Ontario—a Yukon health card is not currently necessary to receive vaccination. The government is currently looking at ways to ensure this sort of misrepresentation doesn’t happen again, Streicker said.
“I sincerely hope no other Canadians try this again,” he said.
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