1st court date for southern couple accused of sneaking into northern Canadian community for vaccines

Rod and Ekaterina Baker are accused of flouting COVID-19 restrictions in Yukon in order to get doses of the Moderna vaccine. (Ekaterina Baker/Facebook )

Rod and Ekaterina Baker did not appear in person

A Vancouver couple accused of flouting Yukon’s COVID-19 rules and travelling to Beaver Creek to get doses of the Moderna vaccine meant for locals had their first court date on Tuesday.

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker were scheduled to make a first appearance on four charges under Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA) in Whitehorse.

The couple, who are facing a charge each of failing to adhere to an entry declaration form and failing to self-isolate, did not appear in court in person. A lawyer appeared via phone on their behalf.

The appearance lasted less than two minutes before the matter was adjourned to May 18.

The Bakers are accused of flying to Yukon in January and ignoring the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period for anyone arriving from outside the territory. Instead, they allegedly chartered a plane to Beaver Creek, where they posed as workers from a local motel in order to take advantage of a vaccine clinic intended for area residents.

Beaver Creek is a community of about 100 people located roughly 450 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse near the Alaska border and is home to the White River First Nation.

Officials stopped and charged the Bakers at the Whitehorse airport, as they were about to leave the territory, after vaccine clinic staff raised suspicions about the couple’s actual identities.

Rod Baker, at the time, was the president and CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation while Ekaterina Baker is an actress. Rod Baker resigned from his position shortly after the alleged incident.

The incident prompted sharp condemnation from across the country and led to Yukon changing its proof-of-residency requirements at its vaccine clinics.

The Bakers, if convicted, face a maximum penalty of a $575 fine per charge ($2,300 total), six months in jail or both.

First Nation continues calls for jail time

White River First Nation has been calling for a harsher punishment for the couple since the incident came to light.

In a written statement issued on Sunday in anticipation of the court date, the First Nation said the Bakers’ alleged “callous and irresponsible behaviour” put elders and other vulnerable community members at risk and showed a “clear lack of respect for other people’s safety, other than their own.”

“The courts cannot let the fact that time has passed, and more people are vaccinated now, to cloud the seriousness of their offence to our community,” Chief Bessie Chasse said in the news release.

“Issuing a fine to the Bakers, who are wealthy, without additional punishment, would have little meaning or effect… WRFN believes that a fine alone would not send a sufficient message to others who may choose to behave in this fashion.”

The release also said the Bakers had not reached out directly to the First Nation to try to make amends.

Janet VanderMeer, who sits on White River First Nation’s volunteer COVID-19 working group, attended the first appearance on Tuesday and said she was disappointed with how quickly the matter was adjourned, in part because she had driven hundreds of kilometres to attend.

Speaking to media afterwards, she said that while she was glad the case hadn’t been dropped and that the Bakers hadn’t been simply allowed to pay a fine and move on, she was also frustrated by how long it was taking for her community to get justice.

“People have been asking me, ‘What really [angers you], Janet?’ And it’s the moment when I realized [the Bakers] saw the oldest resident in Beaver Creek and the most vulnerable person in Beaver Creek and continued to get the vaccine,” VanderMeer said.

“They continued on. They should have left. This would have been a little story somewhere maybe in the local news — they should have left and they didn’t. So making that choice, I want the biggest penalty we can possibly get under CEMA.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Shared smoking breaks, broken rules: What led to Nunavut, Canada’s first COVID-19 cases?, The Canadian Press

Finland: Mysterious coronavirus variant in Arctic Finland is rare US-Mexican strain, Yle News

Denmark/Greenland: Greenland authorities buoyed by high demand for COVID-19 vaccine, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland extends COVID-19 restrictions by one week, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway extends border closure with Finland due to pandemic, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Norway closes borders over fears of virus, but exempts Russian fishermen from severely infected border region, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: COVID-19 strategy darkens Sweden’s image in the Nordics, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska politicians send Trudeau letter saying they’re “shocked” over Canada’s COVID-19 cruise ship ban, Eye on the Arctic

Jackie Hong, CBC News

Jackie Hong is a reporter for CBC North in Whitehorse. She was previously the courts and crime reporter at the Yukon News and, before moving North in 2017, was a reporter at the Toronto Star where she covered everything from murder trials to escaped capybaras.

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