Oyebola Olugbemi has been fined $500 for failing to self-isolate after returning to the Yukon from Calgary last month and going to work four days after flying home. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Whitehorse man fined $500 for failing to self-isolate after returning from Outside

Oyebola Olugbemi is the first person to be charged with a COVID-19-related offence in the Yukon

A Whitehorse man has been fined $500 for failing to self-isolate after returning to the Yukon from Calgary last month, instead going to work four days after flying home.

Oyebola Olugbemi was charged April 29 with one count under the Civil Emergency Measures Act for disobeying an order made during a state of emergency — specifically, a requirement for anyone entering the territory to self-isolate for 14 days.

He’s the first person to be charged, and sentenced, under the act after the Yukon declared a state of emergency on March 27 over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Olugbemi pleaded guilty to the charge via his lawyer, Leslie de Meulles, in a Whitehorse territorial courtroom the afternoon of May 5. He was not present in the courtroom, instead attending the proceedings via telephone.

According to an agreed statement of facts read to the court by Crown attorney Kelly McGill after the plea, Olugbemi landed at the Whitehorse airport on April 10 after a trip to Calgary to visit his wife and children.

He completed a declaration form stating where he had travelled from, provided an address where he would be self-isolating, and was given an information pamphlet on COVID-19 recommendations and orders in the Yukon.

However, Olugbemi, a financial services advisor at CIBC, returned to work on April 14, telling his boss and roommates that he had gone to Dawson City — not Calgary.

He had no COVID-19 symptoms while at work and there is no evidence of any transmission.

McGill said the territory’s COVID-19 enforcement team received a complaint on April 23 and two officers visited Olugbemi’s home in Whitehorse around 2 p.m. the same day.

Olugbemi wasn’t home; a roommate told the officers that he was at work.

Officers returned later in the day after speaking to Olugbemi on the phone and found him wearing business attire. McGill said Olugbemi denied telling his roommates he’d gone to Dawson and also denied that he had gone to work, claiming he had been going on “long drives” and that he “wears nice clothes all of the time.”

Officers went to the CIBC on April 24, where the manager was unaware that Olugbemi had left the territory. The officers also confirmed that Olugbemi had worked eight days at that point — from April 14 to 17, and 20 to 23.

Olugbemi called the officers shortly after their visit to the bank and admitted he hadn’t been honest with them, McGill said, explaining that he felt he had to go to work to help people with their mortgages.

The Crown requested Olugbemi be given a $500 fine, the maximum financial penalty allowed under the act (it also provides for six months in jail, or both a fine and jail time). McGill argued there were several aggravating factors in the case, including the “high degree of deception” on Olugbemi’s part and the fact that, working at a bank in downtown Whitehorse, he would have come into contact with the public and other employees.

De Meulles asked the court for a $300 fine, arguing there were a number of mitigating factors — Olugbemi was under the impression he was an essential worker and had to go to work, she said, and had also reached out to and cooperated with officers.

Olugbemi is “disappointed and embarrassed” by his behaviour, she added.

Judge Michael Cozens ultimately agreed with the Crown, saying that even if Olugbemi genuinely believed he was an essential worker who didn’t need to self-isolate, he could have easily double-checked if that was the case but did not.

He described failing to follow the self-isolation order as a “serious offence” and said the Yukon had “dodged a bullet,” noting that there are a number of communities in the territory that could be “very adversely affected” should COVID-19 spread.

Olugbemi, who had remained largely silent throughout the proceedings, began loudly sobbing as Cozens neared the end of his decision, at one point wailing, “Please, please.”

“This was a mistake … an intentional mistake that could have had significant consequences,” Cozens said. “It has not, and that is fortunate but certainly other people need to understand that if they violate these orders, they will be held accountable because we don’t want someone else to make the same mistake.”

Cozens gave Olugbemi six months to pay the fine, waiving a victim fine surcharge as acknowledgement of his remorse.

Olugbemi was never tested for COVID-19; de Meulles later told the News that he had offered to be, but was denied because he didn’t have any symptoms.

She said the case highlighted the importance of governments to ensure, as laws quickly change, that citizens remain well-informed of what’s happening.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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