Couple who snuck into Yukon community for vaccine pleads guilty to breaking pandemic rules
Rod and Ekaterina Baker fined $2,300 for violations under the Civil Emergency Measures Act
Two people who snuck into the small Yukon community of Beaver Creek earlier this year, posing as locals to get doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, have pleaded guilty to charges under Yukon's Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA).
On Wednesday morning, Rod and Ekaterina Baker of Vancouver entered guilty pleas in Yukon Territorial Court to a charge each of failing to adhere to an entry declaration form and failing to self-isolate.
They've been fined the maximum $500 plus a $75 surcharge on each count, totalling $2,300. They will serve no jail time.
"Fortunately, nothing physical happened in this case, no one got COVID as a result," said Judge Michael Cozens as he delivered the sentences.
"There was harm, but the harm wasn't anyone catching COVID. It was certainly psychological."
The Bakers shot to infamy in January after flying to Whitehorse and, flouting a mandatory 14-day self-isolation requirement, chartering a plane to remote Beaver Creek. There, they posed as local motel workers to take advantage of a mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic in the community.
News of the Bakers' exploits immediately caused a furor in Yukon and beyond. The White River First Nation, based in Beaver Creek, called it a display of privilege that put their citizens at risk, and said the Bakers should face severe punishment. The call was echoed by a number of Yukon leaders.
The Bakers initially attended court on Wednesday by phone. Judge Michael Cozens questioned the "appropriateness" of that, and the proceedings were briefly paused to arrange for the Bakers to instead appear by video.
According to an agreed statement of facts, the Bakers arrived in Whitehorse on Jan. 19 and signed a mandatory declaration form, stating that they would be isolating in the city. Yukon laws required anybody arriving to isolate for 14 days on arrival.
The Bakers — who said the purpose for their visit to Yukon was tourism and education — spent just two days in Whitehorse before taking a private charter to Beaver Creek. Rod Baker had booked that flight three days before the couple flew to Yukon.
Beaver Creek is located about 450 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse near the Alaska border. It's home to about 100 people, many of whom are citizens of White River First Nation.
Yukon had prioritized Beaver Creek, along with other remote communities, for vaccination due to its vulnerability to COVID-19.
When they got to Beaver Creek, the Bakers went to the local community hall where a mobile vaccination clinic was set up. Rod Baker had earlier booked their vaccination appointments online.
Then, that same day, they returned to Whitehorse and went directly to the city's airport. They were met by Yukon CEMA officers as they were getting ready to board a flight to Vancouver.
Rod Baker at the time was the president and CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, which owns more than 20 casinos across the country. He resigned shortly after the story broke. Ekaterina Baker is an actress.
The Bakers did not directly address the court on Wednesday. However, defence lawyer Jennifer Cunningham said they "apologize unreservedly for their actions."
Cunningham said the incident was "out of character" for the couple, and that they had never been before the courts. She said the Bakers had faced heavy consequences already, through online shaming. She also referred to a $5,000 charitable donation the Bakers made to a charity that works to ensure global access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Cozens' sentence had been a joint submission by the prosecution and defence.
Crown lawyer Kelly McGill noted there was a "high level of deception," in the Bakers' actions, with a clear motive of getting the COVID-19 vaccine. She said the actions put Yukoners and specifically Beaver Creek at risk, and said a significant amount of money was required to pull off the scheme.
But McGill also said there were mitigating factors that showed the Bakers did not deserve jail time — though the charges allowed a maximum sentence of six months. McGill referred to the Bakers' early guilty pleas and their decision to later provide negative COVID-19 tests to the community, to ease any concerns of transmission and spread.
Shocked and outraged
Janet VanderMeer of the White River First Nation also delivered a victim impact statement to the court on behalf of her community, ahead of the sentencing.
She described how the community was shocked and outraged by the Bakers' actions, and how some citizens suffered sleepless nights, anxiety and trauma. There remains a feeling of insecurity and distrust, she said.
"There was never a thought in our mind that someone would take advantage of our situation as a small, remote community."
VanderMeer also described how Beaver Creek — with a local economy typically reliant on tourism — may now be stigmatized as a less-desirable place to visit or stay.
She also addressed the Bakers directly.
"Educate yourself. Educate yourself on First Nations people, on small communities. Educate yourself, please."
With files from Jackie Hong