Members of White River First Nation (WRFN) in Beaver Creek, Yukon, are expressing outrage after a Vancouver couple charted a flight to the community so they could get early access to the Moderna vaccine.
Rodney Baker, 55, and Ekaterina Baker, 32, made national news last week after it was discovered that they had boarded a chartered flight from Whitehorse to Beaver Creek, which has a population of just over 93 people.
The Bakers each received one dose each of the Moderna vaccine.
They also received two fines under the Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA), one for failing to self-isolate and another for failing to follow their signed declaration that they would self-isolate in Whitehorse for 14 days. The total of the fines amounts to $1,150 each.
“How dare these two privileged multi-millionaires come into WRFN Traditional Territory, and the small community of Beaver Creek, Yukon, and lie to medical professionals, putting our community at risk, to jump the queue,” says WRFN Chief Angela Dermit.
Quanah Giuseppe VanderMeer, who is a citizen of WRFN, says he’s angered about the situation as Beaver Creek has limited access to healthcare facilities.
“We don’t have the same type of health care that everybody else has. I have asthma myself, I could die from it. My father’s diabetic, he could die from it. There’s so many elders that have diabetes or lung problems or respiratory – it could basically off us.”
Giuseppe VanderMeer also questions about how the Bakers could board a chartered flight without raising any suspicions from the airline company or people involved with the community’s airport in Snag, which he says, is approximately a kilometre from Beaver Creek.
“I’m pretty shook up about that. I don’t know how they were able to just charter a flight into an airport that’s rarely ever used. I’ve seen maybe two flights land there in the past year,” said Giuseppe VanderMeer.
APTN News brought Giuseppe VanderMeer’s concerns to John Streicker, minister of community services and the minister in charge of CEMA.
“It was almost the sense from the charter company that they thought these people we’re helping with the vaccine clinic,” said Streicker.
Bessie Chasse says “I think I’m more just upset these two individuals put our community at risk.”
“I myself am high risk because I’m diabetic. I think I was more upset, too, because my father was there and he’s high risk and it’s just very upsetting,” she said.
Timeline of events
Streicker told APTN the pair arrived in Whitehorse on Tuesday, Jan.19. He said they most likely flew from Vancouver to Whitehorse.
The Bakers filled out a declaration form when they arrived stating they would self-isolate at a hotel in Whitehorse. CEMA dictates that people entering the Yukon from outside the territory must isolate in Whitehorse for 14 days.
On Thursday, Jan.21, the pair boarded a chartered flight to Beaver Creek.
It’s believed the pair chose Beaver Creek as their destination because it’s one of the first communities in the Yukon to receive the Moderna vaccine due to its remoteness and elderly population.
Once arriving in Beaver Creek, the Bakers told staff at the clinic that they were working at a local motel in the community.
Despite presenting a B.C. and Ontario health card, the Bakers were able to receive one dose each of the Moderna vaccine. Streicker says Yukon vaccination clinics will accept out of territory health cards because new arrivals in the territory have to wait to get their Yukon health cards.
Chasse says she believes she saw the couple at the community centre where vaccinations were taking place.
“We just found it weird because it wasn’t a cold day but these two individuals were (dressed in) really big parkas, like full winter gear. I just kind of looked at my husband and went ‘who’s that?’ And he said ‘I don’t know, I was going to ask you the same question.’”
Though Chasse and her husband didn’t recognize the couple, she said it’s common to see Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) workers in the area since the community borders with Alaska.
“We do get individuals new in the community because of the CBSA, so we get new customs workers. We just kind of brushed it off,” said Chase.
The Bakers then asked someone at the mobile vaccination clinic if they could give them a ride to the airport, which is rarely used.
“That tweaked things for folks,” Streicker says.
“The mobile vaccine unit decided to call the motel just to ask about these two people, and the motel said they didn’t know who they were.”
The vaccine clinic then alerted CEMA. CEMA officers found out the couple had boarded a charter flight to Beaver Creek but that it had already landed.
Officers then checked the hotel the Bakers said they were self-isolating at but found they had already checked out. They were eventually able to locate the couple at the Whitehorse airport where they were waiting in the boarding lounge to fly back to Vancouver.
Both Giuseppe VanderMeer and Chasse say WRFN is upset with the Yukon government because members were only alerted of the incident the day after it happened.
“I felt that it was very disrespectful the First Nation was the last people to find out,” Chasse says.
“We have a local COVID team and they weren’t even contacted, the chief wasn’t contacted. Nobody was informed.”
Minster Streicker says it’s “his fault” there wasn’t better communication with WRFN.
“It all happened so quickly. I misunderstood. I thought it had maybe been the local folks who had seen them and went ‘hey, those people don’t belong here,’ and that’s how the tip had come to us. I didn’t even understand that White River didn’t know.”
“The way White River folks said it to me was that the community felt violated. They’re very upset and reasonably so.”
WRFN also said in a press release Monday that it “does not feel that this lenient punishment is appropriate for the gravity of the actions taken, given the potentially lethal effects to our community. The fine, particularly when applied to these individuals, is essentially meaningless…WRFN is calling on the Yukon Government, as well as the RCMP, to pursue a full investigation and a more just punishment.”
“I think it should be much larger (than $1,150),” Giuseppe VanderMeer told APTN.
“Considering they put the whole community at risk, not only White River First Nation people, but as well as the elders that live on the other side of town.”
On Monday, WRFN member Teresa Vander Meer-Chassé started a petition demanding Streicker and RCMP to pursue a full investigation and a more just punishment. It has 650 signatures so far.
“It is important that the penalty seriously discourages any future similar behaviour,” the petition states.
Streicker told APTN on Monday that the couple were charged the maximum penalty under CEMA, and that any additional charges will fall under the RCMP’s discretion.
Baker resigns as CEO of gaming company
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 on Sunday after the incident went public.
APTN reached out to GCGC, who said in an email statement “As a matter of policy, Great Canadian does not comment on personnel matters relating to former employees. As was announced yesterday, effective January 24, 2021, Mr. Baker is no longer the President and CEO of Great Canadian, and is no longer affiliated in any way with the company.”
According to IMDb, Ekaterina Baker is an European born aspiring actress.
Streicker says the Yukon government is now looking at other methods besides health cards to confirm Yukon residents live in the territory.