The wealthy Vancouverite couple that flew into a remote Yukon community has pleaded guilty to the charges levied against them and were fined a total of $2,300.
Janet Van Der Meer, a member of the White River First Nation (WRFN) where the couple stopped said she’s disappointed there won’t be more serious repercussions for the couple.
“I’m not surprised the Yukon government continues to take the easy way out, and that’s unfortunate,” she said.
Rodney and Ekatrina Baker have both pleaded guilty to failing to self-isolate and for failing to follow their signed declaration that they would self-isolate in Whitehorse for 14 days under the Yukon’s Civil Emergency Act (CEMA).
The Bakers made headlines in January after they were discovered to have travelled to Whitehorse from Vancouver in order to get early access to the Moderna vaccine.
The pair chartered a flight from Whitehorse to Beaver Creek, a small community of around 90 people which is also home to WRFN.
The couple lied about their identity and said they were motel workers in order to get the vaccine.
Rodney Baker was president and CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation(GCGC), an entertainment provider with several facilities including casinos, hotels and show theatres in Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
He resigned after the incident went public.
Bakers make first public appearance
During the beginning of the plea hearing, Judge Michael Cozens asked the Bakers’ defence lawyer Jennie Cunningham to have them appear via video. The pair were originally scheduled to appear through phone conference.
Cozens stated he was “surprised” the Bakers were not appearing by video and that it was “appropriate in the circumstance.”
WRFN also requested the pair appear by video.
The two people have kept a low profile since the incident went public and have not done any media interviews. Ekatrina, an aspiring Russian actress, has since deleted her Facebook page.
The couple did not make any comments during their appearance.
“They just sat there. I didn’t see the remorse,” Van Der Meer said.
She added the Bakers have yet to reach out to the community and personally apologize.
Bakers encouraged to reach out
During the plea, Van Der Meer read a community impact statement detailing how the Bakers actions affected the community and members of WRFN.
The statement touched on how the Bakers’ actions caused many people in the community anxiety and stress and that it will take years for the community to recover from the incident.
“There was never a thought in our mind someone would take advantage of our (vaccine) situation,” she read.
The statement also asked for the Bakers to educate themselves about Indigenous issues and their own actions.
The Bakers showed no visible emotion during the reading of the statement.
Cozens said he felt the statement for the Bakers to educate themselves was “ a positive…in the sense of (the Bakers) don’t know much about (Beaver Creek) expect for ‘we have vaccines’ and then (the Bakers) left and left (the community) in fear.
“It might be useful thing to take a look at the dynamics of the community,” he said.
He added it could also provide repatriation to Beaver Creek and encouraged the Bakers to reach out to WRFN.
“I look forward to that,” Van Der Meer said, “(but) I’m not betting on it.”
Crown lawyer Kelly McGill noted there was premeditation in the Bakers actions as they had booked their flight to Whitehorse as well as their chartered flight to Beaver Creek in advance.
She noted they also pre-booked their vaccine appointment a few days before arriving in Beaver Creek.
However, she said there were mitigating factors in the case, such as the Bakers providing their COVID-19 results after news broke of the incident as well as pleading guilty.
She also noted she was aware that the Bakers are remorseful for their actions and have donated $5,000 each to COVAX, a global vaccine-organization.
She said the donations were in good faith and not a necessity in regulatory proceedings.
Cunningham also noted her clients “conduct was out of character.”
“The Bakers apologize unreservedly for their actions,” she said.
The Bakers were fined the maximum amount under CEMA as part of a joint submission, meaning both the Crown and the defence agreed on the sentence.
Cozens added the joint submission would result in little leeway for him to deviate from the sentence and institute more serious punishments like jail time.
“Obviously this case has been a very emotional case for the community, and for people, and I know a lot of people won’t think a $500 fine is enough, but that is the maximum that can be imposed here,” he said.
Van Der Meer said in the end, she’s glad it’s over.
“I’m just glad it’s done. I have enough to do. As a nation we have enough to deal with… I’m glad it’s over with,” she said.
Yukon Premier Sandy Silver also released a statement which states in part “We acknowledge the Bakers have each donated a modest amount to the COVAX program, an international organization that works to ensure global access to COVID-19 vaccines. While this donation reflects remorse on the part of the Bakers, they have not yet directly apologized to the White River First Nation and the residents of Beaver Creek.
“The community of Beaver Creek feels violated by the actions of the Bakers. They have called for an apology and they deserve one.”