Canadian couple who flew to small town for Covid-19 vaccine plead guilty

VANCOUVER (NYTIMES) – A Canadian couple who drew widespread criticism for flying to a small Indigenous community in January to get vaccinated pleaded guilty Wednesday (June 16) to violating local coronavirus restrictions, according to court records.

The couple, Rodney and Ekaterina Baker of Vancouver, British Columbia, appeared virtually in Yukon Territorial Court and pleaded guilty to charges under the territory’s Civil Emergency Measures Act, which was enacted during the pandemic and required people to isolate themselves for 14 days after entering Yukon, records show.

While the Bakers will not face jail time, they were each fined US$1,000 (S$1,341) plus a US$150 surcharge, totalling US$2,300 for the couple.

“Fortunately, nothing physical happened in this case; no one got Covid as a result,” Judge Michael Cozens said during court proceedings, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “There was harm, but the harm wasn’t anyone catching Covid. It was certainly psychological.”

The Bakers travelled about 1,200 miles (1,900km) to Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital, on Jan 19.

Two days later, bypassing the required two weeks of quarantine, the couple chartered a flight to Beaver Creek, about 300 miles north-west of Whitehorse, and posed as motel workers in the area and received vaccinations. Later that day, the couple returned to Whitehorse, where authorities found them.

Within days, Rodney Baker, who had been the chief executive of the Great Canadian Gaming Corp, which operates casinos and hotels across Canada, resigned from his position. Ekaterina Baker is an actress.

Ms Kelly McGill, who prosecuted the case as part of Yukon’s legal services branch, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Beaver Creek, which relies heavily on traffic from the Alaska Highway, has suffered economically amid travel restrictions during the pandemic. The community was made a priority for vaccinations in part because of its remoteness, and shots were made available to adults of all ages. Yukon identification cards were not required.

The couple’s actions highlighted both the complexities of a global vaccine rollout and the inequities in vaccine distribution, made all the more complicated by the disproportionately high rates of infection and death among poor people and people of color. These issues were especially fraught amid vaccine shortages and distribution problems.

Ms Jennifer Cunningham, the couple’s lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Mr John Streicker, Yukon’s community services minister, said at the time that he was “outraged” by the couple’s “selfish behaviour.”

Similarly, Ms Angela Demit, the chief of the White River First Nation, called the Bakers “privileged multimillionaires.”

“It’s clear to me that because we are a predominantly Indigenous community, that they assumed we were naive,” she said. “There must be a clear signal sent that this behavior is unacceptable.”

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