The couple who snuck into Beaver Creek to receive a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year pleaded guilty on June 16 to charges under the Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA).
Appearing by video in Yukon Territorial Court, Rod and Ekaterina Baker pleaded guilty to two charges each. They were each fined the maximum amount of $500 per charge plus a $75 surcharge, totalling $2,300.
The final words of a community impact statement read by Janet VanderMeer, a member of the White River First Nation and a resident of Beaver Creek, implored the Bakers to learn from their offences.
“Educate yourself,” VanderMeer told the Bakers who appeared in the Whitehorse courtroom by video conference on June 16. “Educate yourself on First Nations people and small communities. Educate yourself.”
The Bakers visited Beaver Creek from Vancouver via Whitehorse last January.
Rod Baker was the CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation until he resigned on Jan. 25. Public financial documents show he was paid over $10 million for this role in 2019 alone.
Ekaterina Baker is an actress who appeared in films including Fatman and Chick Fight. Both were Vancouver, B.C. residents at the time of the offences.
Statement of facts
According to a statement of facts agreed to by Territorial Crown Counsel McGill and defence lawyer Jennifer Cunningham before it was submitted to presiding judge Michael Cozens, the Bakers flew from Vancouver to Whitehorse on Jan. 19 where they signed declarations that the purpose of their arrival was visiting, tourism or education.
The paperwork acknowledged the 14-day isolation requirement and included the address of a Whitehorse hotel as their quarantine location.
The statement of facts, read to the court by McGill, details how the Bakers then checked out of the downtown Whitehorse hotel on Jan. 21 before boarding a chartered plane bound for Beaver Creek.
The court heard that the flights, as well as a vaccination appointment in Beaver Creek, were booked before the Bakers entered the territory.
They returned to the Whitehorse airport after receiving vaccines at Beaver Creek’s mobile clinic.
They were met at the airport by officers and ticketed under the territory’s Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA). A court summons was later issued for them and they were charged with offences relating to their failure to self-isolate and their non-compliance with the health orders.
During the June 16 court appearance, McGill noted that the offences the Bakers were fined $2,300 for would have cost them an estimated $10,000 to commit between their hotel stay and the flights to and within the Yukon.
The June 16 court appearance began with the Bakers appearing over a phone line by audio only. Cozens questioned why they were not appearing by video and after the defence lawyer indicated they would not be opposed to a video call, court recessed to set it up.
The Bakers sat side-by-side in front of the video camera and wore blank expressions throughout the appearance.
VanderMeer noted that the White River First Nation (WRFN) had requested ahead of time that the Bakers appear by video.
Crown does not seek jail time
Ahead of the delivery of Cozens’ sentence, VanderMeer read out a statement of behalf of the Beaver Creek and White River First Nation community regarding the harm caused by the Bakers’ flouting of the border rules and intrusion into the vaccine clinic.
Standing at a podium in the courtroom, she said the revelation that people came to the clinic without following the health orders lead to anxiety and sleepless nights. Community members felt blindsided.
She detailed how the opening of the vaccine clinic was a happy time for the community, seen as a step towards the reopening of the border with Alaska and allowing for reunions with friends and family on the other side.
VanderMeer recalled helping her elderly mother and father get vaccinated on the opening day of the clinic and said the Bakers were there on the same day as some of Beaver Creek’s most vulnerable residents. She said she was left feeling that she had not done enough to protect community elders.
The statement also explained the vulnerability of Beaver Creek as a whole.
VanderMeer said the community’s medical facility is usually staffed with only one nurse and people who fall seriously ill must travel hundreds of kilometres for treatment.
The events on the first day of the vaccine clinic also led some community members to reconsider getting their second dose as VanderMeer said people felt the vaccination clinic might not be safe.
The joint submission on sentencing presented by the Crown and defence lawyers noted aggravating factors including the apparent premeditation and deception showed by the Bakers and the risk they put Beaver Creek residents at. Also submitted were mitigating circumstances including the Bakers’ early guilty pleas and voluntary COVID-19 tests with negative results that they provided to WRFN in the days after they returned to B.C.
They also donated $5,000 each to a vaccination charity administered by UNICEF. McGill told the court that if this were a criminal matter, the court would not likely consider the donations but in a regulatory case like this it can be seen as an expression of remorse.
McGill noted that the crown considered seeking a jail sentence and were it not for the Bakers’ early guilty pleas and other mitigating actions they may have proceeded.
Justice Cozens noted that his sentencing decision was largely bound to the joint submission from the lawyers before approving the maximum fine. He acknowledged the emotional impact of the case and spoke to the fortunate lack of a COVID-19 outbreak as a result of the Bakers’ actions. He also implored the Bakers’ to seek a way to apologize and make amends with the Beaver Creek community.
VanderMeer rose to express disappointment that they had not reached out to offer an apology already.
The Bakers said nothing when offered a chance to address the court.
A lack of remorse?
Speaking with reporters outside the courthouse, VanderMeer said she was pleased with Cozens’ request that the Bakers appear by video and his suggestion post-sentencing that they reach out and try to make amends.
She said she was disappointed, but not surprised, to see the case resolved with a joint submission from both sides’ lawyers and called it taking the easy way out.
“I believe there would have been ways to incarcerate these people for their actions, so that is very disappointing today.”
She also found the Bakers’ lack of emotion in court disappointing.
“Maybe that was a strategy, I don’t know. They looked pretty rough and they just sat there,” VanderMeer said.
“You can see remorse in people in their faces and their actions. I didn’t see that.”
She added she wants to hear from the Bakers as the Judge suggested, but is looking forward to putting the matter behind her and behind the community.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org