The now-former president and CEO of a Canadian casino company and his wife are the couple accused of breaking Yukon COVID-19 rules and chartering a plane to the small community of Beaver Creek to receive doses of the Moderna vaccine.
Rodney Baker, a 55-year-old who was then president and CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, and Ekaterina Baker, a 32-year-old aspiring actress, both received tickets at the Whitehorse airport on Jan. 21, according to court records. Rodney Baker resigned from his positions Sunday.
Yukon Community Services Minister John Streicker told CBC Monday the couple arrived in Whitehorse on Jan. 19. However, instead of completing a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period, the Bakers on Jan. 21 chartered a flight to Beaver Creek, a community of about 100 people that is located roughly 450 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse near the Alaska border.
Couple claimed they worked at nearby motel
There, according to Streicker, they took advantage of a mobile vaccination clinic that was administering the first doses of the Moderna vaccine to locals, claiming they were new employees at an area motel.
Yukon’s rural communities have priority to receive vaccinations because they’re more vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. Many are hours away from a hospital and lack the resources to address an outbreak.
The pair are accused of violating the territorial Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA) by failing to self-isolate and failing to adhere to entry declarations.
The CBC has reached out to both Bakers for comment but, as of publication, had not received any replies.
Rodney Baker, who also goes by Rod, was appointed president of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation in 2010 and then CEO in 2011.
The corporation owns more than 20 casinos in British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and, last year, became embroiled in an inquiry looking into allegations of corruption and money-laundering in B.C. casinos.
Great Canadian Gaming spokesperson Chuck Keeling told CBC in an email on Monday that the company “does not comment on personnel matters.” However, he wrote that it “strictly follows all directives and guidance issued by public health authorities in each jurisdiction where we operate.”
Ekaterina Baker, meanwhile, is a Russian-born actress. According to her IMDB page, she appeared in a handful of films last year.
Social media posts show that the couple married in 2017.
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Suspicions raised over request for ride to airport
The couple raised suspicions in Beaver Creek when they asked for a ride to the airport after getting their shots.
“And people were like, ‘Well, why would you be going to the airport?’ ” Minister Streicker said.
“And so that’s when the CEMA enforcement unit got called and said, ‘Hey, who’s this couple that may be flying back? You should check to see whether they really are here in the territory.’ “
Members of the mobile clinic team also called the motel, according to Streicker, and were told that the couple didn’t work there.
We just didn’t anticipate that anyone would go to this length to effectively deceive the team to get vaccinated, and I think we all felt pretty offended at the whole thing.– John Streicker, minister of Community Services
CEMA officers were able to identify the couple via their entry declaration forms — everyone who enters Yukon from another jurisdiction is required to fill one out — and went to the Whitehorse airport, where the couple’s chartered plane had returned from Beaver Creek.
After going to the hotel where the two were supposed to be self-isolating, CEMA officers found they’d already checked out. The officers returned to the airport and located the couple as they were getting ready to leave the territory, Streicker said.
The tickets list the Bakers as sharing an address in downtown Vancouver, although social media posts appear to indicate that they split their time between B.C. and Toronto.
Meanwhile, White River First Nation, whose government office is located in Beaver Creek, issued a statement over the weekend condemning the couple’s actions and calling for harsher penalties.
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The statement also slammed the Yukon government’s communications protocols, noting that the First Nation first learned about the incident from the media instead of the territory.
Streicker, in his interview Monday, said he took responsibility for the failure to immediately contact the First Nation and that he and the territory’s chief medical officer of health have since spoken to the First Nation’s leadership.
CEMA violations come with a maximum penalty of a $500 fine plus a $75 victim surcharge per count, six months’ jail or both. The couple has 30 days to either pay their fines — a total of $2,300 for all four counts they’re facing — or plead not guilty and request a trial.
Territory working to tighten policies
Streicker also said the territory is working on making tighter policies to avoid a similar incident — the likelihood of which he deemed to be low — from happening again.
For example, in the case of this couple, one had presented an Ontario health card, and the other had a B.C. health card, he said. Those wouldn’t have necessarily prevented them from getting a vaccine as there are many out-of-territory workers in the North.
But he said the territory has obtained sample copies of all other provincial and territorial health care cards to be kept with the mobile vaccine units so the units can determine if a health card is valid, “in case someone’s trying to fake that.”
The Yukon government is also working on ways to find supporting evidence that someone is actually employed in the territory.
“All that is being sorted out by the team right now to try and figure out how to keep everybody safe,” Streicker said.
He said the incident was shocking, but said officials don’t think it will happen again.
“We just didn’t anticipate that anyone would go to this length to effectively deceive the team to get vaccinated, and I think we all felt pretty offended at the whole thing,” Streicker said.
“But we will put in place additional procedures … I don’t imagine that this is going to repeat itself.”