Couple accused of flying to Yukon for vaccine 'despicable': B.C. minister

VANCOUVER — Public condemnation grew Tuesday of a Vancouver couple accused of flying to a remote Yukon community to get a COVID-19 vaccine, with British Columbia's solicitor general calling their alleged actions "despicable."

Mike Farnworth criticized former Great Canadian Gaming Corp. CEO Rodney Baker and his wife Ekaterina Baker, who have been issued tickets under the territory's Emergency Measures Act and face fines of up to $1,000, plus fees.

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"Frankly, I think what we saw yesterday of individuals flying to Yukon was probably one of the most despicable things that I've seen in a long time. It shows a complete lack of any sort of ethical or moral compass," Farnworth said at a news conference on a separate matter.

"As we've also seen, they have paid a pretty high price, losing a $10-million-a-year job, as they should."

Tickets filed in a Whitehorse court show the 55-year-old man and his 32-year-old wife 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.

The allegations against them have not been proven in court and the tickets indicate the couple can challenge them.

Ekaterina Baker did not immediately respond to calls and emails requesting comment. An attempt was made to speak to Rodney Baker through a request to Great Canadian Gaming, which accepted his resignation Sunday, after he couldn't be reached.

An information circular published by Great Canadian Gaming in March 2020 says Baker earned a total of about $6.7 million in compensation from the company in 2019.

The company owns and operates more than 20 casinos in B.C., Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Baker became president in 2010 and CEO the following year.

Spokesman Chuck Keeling said in a statement on Monday that the company does not comment on personnel matters, but it complies with guidelines from public health authorities in all jurisdictions.

"Our overriding focus as a company is doing everything we can to contribute to the containment of COVID-19," he said.

Ekaterina Baker is an actress who had small roles this year in "Chick Fight," starring Malin Akerman and Bella Thorne, and "Fatman," which starred Mel Gibson as a rowdy, unorthodox Santa Claus, according to her IMDB Pro page.

The biography on the page describes her as a European-born actress who is now based in Canada.

Calls and emails to the agent and manager listed on her page were not immediately returned.

Yukon Community Services Minister John Streicker said last week the couple allegedly chartered a plane to Beaver Creek, posed as visiting workers and received shots of a COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile clinic.

Streicker said he was outraged by their alleged actions and members of White River First Nation in Beaver Creek felt violated.

The community was prioritized to receive vaccine because of its remoteness, elderly population and limited access to health care, said White River Chief Angela Demit.

Kevin Rodrigues, a medical ethicist with the University Health Network at Toronto General Hospital, said using "financial muscle" to go elsewhere to be immunized undermines difficult decisions over who should be prioritized for a vaccine when supplies are limited.

"I think that for affected groups or for people who have been struggling and waiting it does feel like a slap in the face. And they went into a remote community and introduced the possibility of infection. It was done for quite a selfish reason."

The pandemic has exposed deep health inequities but the Bakers' alleged actions are a "much more egregious way of exposing this" and raise issues about fundamental injustice within society, he said.

"The reality is that those without means are at greater risk for poor health outcomes as we're trying to get on top of having an equitable health approach," Rodrigues said.

"You hear our government officials say it to the point where it sounds like a buzz word, that 'We're all in this together,' this idea of solidarity, and it doesn't feel like we are a nation that is in solidarity if some people are able to jump the queue and access (vaccines) ahead of others who are waiting and trying to do the right thing."

— With files from Camille Bains

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021.

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