A Wealthy Couple Flew to the Yukon to Get COVID Vaccines Meant for Indigenous Elders
It didn't take long for community residents to notice these outsiders and alert the police. Now, they face charges.
Elderly adults in indigenous communities are a priority group for the COVID-19 vaccine in Canada; these high-risk people live in remote areas and have limited access to health care. But one wealthy Vancouver couple put their own well-being before those vulnerable elders. Casino executive Rodney Baker, 55, and his 32-year-old wife, actress Ekaterina Baker, flew to the small Yukon city of Whitehorse, then chartered a private plane to take them to distant Beaver Creek, an indigenous community—where they attended a mobile vaccination clinic to get their own COVID-19 shots, officials allege.
According to The Vancouver Sun, the couple presented themselves as visiting motel workers to mislead clinic staff. They were able to do this because proof of residency hasn't been required at mobile vaccination clinics, Yukon Community Services Minister John Streicker told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, as reported by The Washington Post.
"I can't believe I've ever seen or heard of such a despicable, disgusting sense of entitlement and lack of a moral compass," said British Columbia Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth in the Vancouver Sun.
Whitehorse court records show that the Bakers were each charged with one count of failing to self-isolate for 14 days, and one count of failing to act in a manner consistent with their declarations upon arriving in Yukon. Each were fined $1,000 plus fees, but the charges have not yet been proven in court. In a statement to The Post, Angela Demit, chief of the White River First Nation, said that the relatively small fines would be "essentially meaningless" for such rich people.
"I think they should be ashamed of themselves," physician Bonnie Henry, FRCPC, the Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia, said of the matter. "They put a community at risk for their own benefit, and that to me is appalling."
On Monday, Rodney Baker resigned as president and CEO of Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which owns casinos in Richmond, Surrey, and Chilliwack in Canada.
Given the small size of the Beaver Creek community, it's no surprise that suspicions about the couple were raised. After workers from the vaccination clinic checked with the motel and learned the Bakers didn't work there, they alerted law enforcement. By this time, they had received their Moderna vaccinations and flew back to Whitehorse. When officers went to the hotel the Bakers had listed as their place of quarantine, they discovered the couple was already preparing to fly home to Vancouver.
It's an anxious time for elderly people in both Canada and the US who are trying—and often failing—to get the vaccine. But the Bakers aren't in this priority group, nor are they members of an indigenous community that does have priority because of a lack of easy access to health care. Beaver Creek, for example, is located deep in Canada's Yukon, and most residents are members of the White River First Nation. The nearest health clinic is more than three hours away by car, and the closest major hospital is in the city of Whitehorse, which is an almost five-hour drive.
For these reasons, nobody has any sympathy for their situation.
"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," Demit said. "We implore all Canadians to respect the vaccination rollout process and to not take similar actions."
It's an important message for people in the US as well, because there may be other loopholes people who shouldn't have priority can take advantage of. This is why Janet VanderMeer, the head of the White River First Nation's coronavirus response team, wants the Bakers to be held accountable in a way that will deter others. On Monday, she made a statement describing the incident as "another example of ongoing acts of oppression against Indigenous communities by wealthy individuals that thought they would get away with it."
Perhaps most concerning is that the couple's breach of quarantine guidelines could have put vulnerable elders at serious risk.
"Our oldest resident of Beaver Creek, who is 88 years old, was in the same room as this couple. My mom, who's palliative, was in the same room as this couple," VanderMeer told Globalnews.ca. "That's gotta be jail time. I can't see anything less. For what our community has been through the last few days."
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