A casino company CEO and his wife are facing charges after allegedly chartering a plane to a remote Indigenous community in Canada, breaking isolation requirements, and pretending to be members of the vulnerable population in order to get the coronavirus vaccine last week.
Rodney Baker, 55, and Ekaterina Baker, 32, were charged Jan. 21 under the Yukon territory's Civil Emergency Measures Act with failure to self-isolate for 14 days upon entry into the territory and failure to behave in a manner consistent with the declaration provided upon entry, according to court documents provided to BuzzFeed News. They each face a $575 fine per count.
Up until Sunday, Rodney was the president and CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, where he had earned millions in compensation. The company announced in a statement on Monday that he was "no longer affiliated in any way with Great Canadian, and has left the company receiving no form of severance whatsoever." Ekaterina is an actor with credits in Chick Fight and the Mel Gibson movie Fatman. Her manager did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment on Tuesday.
The couple was first identified by Yukon News, which reported on Monday that the Bakers had lied to officials at a mobile vaccine clinic in Beaver Creek, saying that they were workers at a local motel, in order to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Beaver Creek is an isolated community near the Alaska border that's home to fewer than 125 people, many of them members of the White River First Nation. Local outlets reported that the couple first traveled to the city of Whitehorse before taking a chartered plane to Beaver Creek, more than 200 miles away.
In Canada, vaccines are currently being prioritized for people living in remote and isolated Indigenous communities, healthcare workers, and long-term care facility residents and staffers. According to the Yukon government's vaccination plan, appointments are currently open to all Beaver Creek residents aged 18 and older.
The White River First Nation has called for more serious penalties to be issued against the Bakers, calling their actions "a blatant disregard for the rules" meant to keep its vulnerable community safe during the pandemic.
"We are deeply concerned by the actions of individuals who put our Elders and vulnerable people at risk to jump the line for selfish purposes," the nation's chief, Angela Demit, said in a statement on Monday. "While we understand many want to have a vaccination immediately, it is not appropriate to skirt the rules put in place and approach our community in this way."
Demit added that Beaver Creek was selected to receive priority for vaccines because of its remoteness, older and high-risk population, and limited access to healthcare facilities.
After getting a dose of the vaccine, the couple asked if they could "get a lift to the airport," a request that the workers declined as they were busy vaccinating community members, Yukon’s community services minister, John Streicker, said in a video clip shared by CBC News.
CEMA enforcement officials, who were tipped off about the couple's behavior, responded to the airport in Whitehorse, where they found the Bakers boarding a flight to leave the northwestern territory.
"[Officials] were able to confirm that the couple had violated the territory’s self-isolation requirements and were not abiding by the declarations they provided upon entry into the territory," Streicker said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. "I am outraged by this selfish behaviour, and find it disturbing that people would choose to put fellow Canadians at risk in this manner."
He said the incident has been reported to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The law enforcement agency told BuzzFeed News it was looking into the matter.
Meanwhile, British Columbia — where the Bakers actually live — is on the brink of another spike of COVID-19 cases. Dr. Bonnie Henry, the British Columbia provincial health officer, said the couple should be "ashamed" of putting the tiny community of Beaver Creek at risk.
"I am very saddened and disappointed that people would do that, but I’m also heartened to know that the vast majority of people in Canada and in BC do not think that way and know that the approach that we have to protect those who are most vulnerable is one that they support," Henry said.