A multimillionaire Canadian casino CEO and his actress wife chartered a private jet to a remote First Nation community to be vaccinated against COVID-19, ignoring quarantine rules and potentially putting the safety of those in the rural area at risk.
Rodney Baker, 55, and 32-year-old Ekaterina Baker flew on January 21 to Beaver Creek, a community of 90 people in the far northwest of Canada close to the border with Alaska.
The pair, who married in 2017, had first landed in Whitehorse on January 19.
Instead of respecting the mandatory 14-day quarantine, they then chartered a private jet to Beaver Creek, 1,700 miles north of their home in Vancouver.
Once in the rural community – which has been largely spared the ravages of the pandemic, with only 70 confirmed cases and one death – they claimed to work at a local motel.
Individuals living and working in the Yukon territory do not need Yukon ID to be vaccinated. The government had previously announced that health cards from other jurisdictions would be accepted if the individuals were residents of the territory, and Baker and his wife gave ID from British Columbia and Ontario – the couple reportedly split their time between Vancouver and Toronto.
After being vaccinated, they left.
Locals were suspicious, however, and rang the motel, which confirmed the pair did not work there.
Officials working to enforce the Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA) went to Whitehorse airport, with the aim of meeting their plane as it landed from Beaver Creek.
The pair had already disembarked, so the officials went to the place the two had listed as a quarantine location in their self-declaration, but found they were not there.
Upon returning to the airport officials found the couple preparing to leave Whitehorse and issued two charges each.
The maximum penalty under CEMA is a CA $500 ($390) fine plus CA $75 surcharge, six months in jail, or both.
Both individuals received two fines: one for failing to self-isolate and a second for failing to follow their signed declaration, adding up to CA $1,150 ($900) each.
Rodney Baker was the CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (GCGC), a major owner of casinos and race tracks across Canada, until he resigned on Sunday, after his actions caused outrage in Canada.
His total annual compensation in 2019, according to the company’s public financial documents, was CA $10.6 million ($8.3m).
Angela Demit, chair of the White River First Nation, said their community was outraged over the scheme.
‘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,’ she said.
WRFN said they are also taking issue with the Yukon government.
Janet Vander Meer, who leads the local COVID-19 Inter-Agency Team, said the community feels deeply disrespected that they had to hear the story from local media, which created panic.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley spoke to the First Nation on Friday after the story became public, and assured the community that risk of transmission is ‘very low’ in this case.
The First Nation said it will be implementing its own safety regulations for the second community vaccination.
Vander Meer said transient people live and work around town, which may explain why the two individuals did not raise suspicion until after they received their Moderna shot.
Vander Meer, a member of WRFN, said the community is deeply upset about the incident.
Many seniors in the community were among those vaccinated.
‘We have been working solidly for 10 months to protect this community,’ she said.
John Streicker, the Yukon’s Minister of Community Services, said the Bakers put the community at risk by breaking quarantine, disregarding the declaration they signed on their arrival and travelling to the remote community.
He told Yukon News he questioned the logic of their deception, as it was unclear how they would get the second dose.
‘I’m very upset at the individuals — the couple — who did this,’ he told the paper on Friday.
‘What they did was to mislead our officials and the community.’
He said they gave themselves away by asking for a ride to the airport immediately after their injections.
‘And people were like, ‘Well, why would you be going to the airport?’ ‘ he told CBC.
‘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.”
The incident has been reported by the Yukon authorities to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Chuck Keeling, spokesman for the casino company, said: ‘As a matter of policy, Great Canadian does not comment on personnel matters.’
‘As a company, Great Canadian takes health and safety protocols extremely seriously, and our company strictly follows all directives and guidance issued by public health authorities in each jurisdiction where we operate.
‘Our adherence to those directives is demonstrated by the fact that we have promptly suspended operations at our facilities whenever directed to by the authorities.
‘Our overriding focus as a company is doing everything we can to contribute to the containment of COVID-19.’
Russian-born Ekaterina Baker is an actor who recently had roles in the 2020 Christmas film Fatman and the 2020 comedy Chick Fight.
On her now-deleted Instagram account she urged her followers to respect COVID restrictions, Yukon News reported.
In a March 23 post she recorded herself with a notepad explaining reasons why she was staying home in quarantine.
‘During this unique and tender time I stay home for: all the kids so they don’t have to say goodbye to their parents and grandparents too soon,’ she wrote.
‘I stay home to be part of the solution. Everyone, stay home. It’s the right thing to do,’ she continued, adding that her father has diabetes and is vulnerable to the virus.
White River First Nation is asking for authorities to ‘pursue a more just punishment’ than just the fines, in order to deter other individuals from doing the same thing.
‘We implore all Canadians to respect the vaccination rollout process and to not take similar actions,’ said Demit.
‘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.
‘WRFN was selected for vaccines given our remoteness, elderly and high-risk population, as well as limited access to health care.’