Clad in winter jackets against the northern winter weather, the couple disembarked the small chartered plane and assured the airport manager they would only be there temporarily while they waited out the weather.
They were travelling to Dawson City, Yukon, they told Caulene May, who runs the Beaver Creek airport, but the so-called home of the Klondike Gold Rush was fogged in. So they’d touched down while they waited for the clouds to lift.
The pandemic had slowed traffic at May’s facility — which serves a tiny, remote town of about 100 people next to the Alaskan border — to a trickle. Furthermore, she had no reason to doubt the story, so she settled them into the pilots’ lounge and went back upstairs to her office.
She was still working at her desk when they allegedly set out from the airport for the temporary COVID vaccination clinic about a mile away, reportedly telling the staff there that they worked at a local motel. A motel which, incidentally, May owns.
“They had all sorts of stories ready, that’s for sure,” she says. “I don’t think they realized the place was so small that everybody knows everybody.”
The former head of a casino chain and a woman reported to be an aspiring actor are now facing tickets and fines after travelling to the remote town in Northern Canada allegedly to get a COVID-19 vaccine, in a ballooning controversy that has forced the CEO to step down from his job and infuriated a tight-knit community that had so far mostly kept the pandemic at bay.
According to copies of the citations issued to Rodney Baker, 55, and Ekaterina Baker, 32, at the local courthouse, the pair were each charged with one count of failing to isolate for 14 days and one count of failing to adhere to the declaration form they signed when they entered the community in violation of Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act.
Each count carries a fine of $500, plus a $75 surcharge. According to the ticket, they can either pay the fine or contest the charges and appear in court.
According to the records, the couple live in a suite at a posh hotel and condo highrise in downtown Vancouver.
The Star buzzed the unit Monday afternoon but nobody answered. Other efforts to reach Rod and Ekaterina Baker for comment Monday were unsuccessful.
“They’re just a bunch of rich people that have extra money to spend that want to jump the line,” said Rita Luxton, manager of the 1202 Motor Inn, one of the few businesses in Beaver Creek that has remained open during the pandemic.
On Thursday, one of her staff answered the phone — it was someone from the vaccine clinic asking to confirm that a couple of people who’d come in for shots worked at the motel.
They did not.
“Plain and simple, it was rich pride,” she says, her frustration evident. “People that are privileged, thinking that they’re better off than somebody else and that they were somehow entitled to come here.”
The motel Luxton manages also has a gas station, and she says she also hears from drivers who aren’t supposed to be in the territory but say they were able to get over the border by misleading officials.
The prospect of southerners coming north for non-essential reasons is one that scares her, given the lack of medical capacity in one of the most remote parts of the country.
“We’re not like a normal city where you people come from,” she says. “People like us that live out here? We’re five hours from a hospital. I mean, it’s a pretty big deal for those people that want the vaccine.”
The clinic had been set up for the day in the community centre — the medical staff themselves had flown in shortly before the couple from Vancouver — to serve residents of Beaver Creek and members of the neighbouring White River First Nation.
Chief Angela Demit said she was shocked by the news that two people had managed to get in line. She applauds local health officials for their COVID response, noting that the local area has stayed relatively safe — and it’s critical that the virus doesn’t get a foothold now.
“We have many elders, and we have a high-risk population that needed these vaccinations, for their protection and for their health,” she said.
“There was quite a few people that are parents, who have children, who have aging parents, and they were shocked, angry; and some were afraid.”
According to an emailed statement from Yukon Community Services Minister John Streicker, two people showed up to a vaccine clinic in Beaver Creek on Jan. 21. One presented a British Columbia health card and the other, an Ontario one.
Although having an out-of-province card wouldn’t disqualify a resident from getting a vaccine, officials were given a tip that the couple had violated the territory’s self-isolation requirements and followed up, which led to charges. RCMP have also been alerted.
“Reports allege these individuals were deceptive and violated emergency measures for their own advantage, which is completely unacceptable at any time, but especially during a public health crisis,” the statement reads.
“I am outraged by this selfish behaviour, and find it disturbing that people would choose put fellow Canadians at risk in this manner.”
A LinkedIn profile for an Ekaterina Baker describers her as an actor.
Her recent film credits include roles in “Chick Fight” and “Fatman,” according to her IMDB profile.
According to the Yukon News, which was one of the first to report the story, along with CBC, Ekaterina posted an Instagram message March 23, explaining why she was staying home during the pandemic.
“During this unique and tender time I stay home for: all the kids so they don’t have to say goodbye to their parents and grandparents too soon,” she reportedly wrote.
“I stay home to be part of the solution. Everyone, stay home. It’s the right thing to do.”
Her account is no longer public.
That same day in March, the Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which owns 25 casinos and other properties across the country, put out a news release that said in part:
“Under the strong leadership of Rod Baker, the Company’s CEO, our caring, diligent and experienced management team is working with our Board to actively monitor the implications that COVID-19 has had — and may have — on the future of our business.”
In an email Monday, a company spokesperson declined to comment on “personnel matters relating to former employees,” but confirmed that Baker is no longer affiliated with the company “in any way.”
“Great Canadian’s board of directors has no tolerance for actions that run counter to the company’s objectives and values,” the statement reads.
“Since the onset of the pandemic our overriding focus as a company has been on doing everything we can to keep our people healthy, and to enable our communities to combat the spread of COVID-19.”
May, the manager of the airport, says the couple seemed pretty normal when she saw them at the airport; their story would not have been unusual at all during a normal tourism season. But when they ventured into town, residents were almost immediately suspicious of strangers in their midst.
The duo stood out in a place where most people know each other and where, during the pandemic, visitors have been almost nonexistent.
While an official response took longer, she says there was one sign that, to her, suggested the tight-knit town had already passed judgment.
“Nobody gave them a ride back to the airport. They had to walk.”