A disgraced former casino executive and his wife avoided jail time on June 16, but will pay $2,300 in fines to the Yukon Territory court for being coronavirus vaccine tourists in an indigenous community.
Rod Baker, 55, and his 32-year-old Fatman and Chick Fight starlet wife Ekaterina pleaded guilty under the Civil Emergency Measures Act for failing to adhere to their Jan. 19 entry declaration and failing to quarantine for 14 days.
The couple was caught jumping the coronavirus vaccine queue when they got Moderna shots on Jan. 21 in Beaver Creek, a remote Yukon community mainly populated by members of the White River First Nation. Baker resigned in disgrace as CEO of Great Canadian Gaming on Jan. 24, the same day the charges became public.
Neither Baker expressed any remorse to the court when Judge Michael Cozens gave them a chance to speak. Their lawyer, Jennie Cunningham, declined the opportunity on their behalf.
Cunningham had earlier told the court the Bakers had made $5,000 donations each to COVAX, the Unicef coronavirus vaccine pool for third world countries, and had sent results of their negative coronavirus tests to Beaver Creek after their case became a worldwide media sensation. The judge agreed those were mitigating factors.
The start of the hearing was briefly delayed because Cozens wanted the Bakers to appear by video link, instead of phone.
The joint submission from Cunningham and Crown prosecutor Kelly McGill said the Bakers arrived in Whitehorse on Jan. 19 from Vancouver and signed forms agreeing to quarantine for two weeks at the Edgewater Hotel in Whitehorse. But they instead left the hotel on Jan. 21 and flew by charter to Beaver Creek where they had already booked an appointment at the community vaccine clinic online.
Rod Baker had arranged the charter flight on Jan. 16, when fewer than 88,000 people in B.C. had been vaccinated.
Locals had reported the couple claimed to be area hotel workers, but their cover was blown when they asked a cabbie to drive them to the airport for their charter back to the Yukon capital.
The Bakers were later ticketed by police at the Whitehorse airport before they boarded a commercial flight to Vancouver, where they live in a $2.6 million condo at the Shangri-la tower.
A community impact statement read in court described the suffering caused by the Bakers.
“After the incident occurred, community members felt very unsafe and worried about their well-being,” said Janet Vander Meer of the White River First Nation. “Locals feared that the next vaccination clinic wouldn’t be safe and began to reconsider their second dose, which is not acceptable. We acted as fast as possible and increased onsite security to help ease the feelings of inaccessibility for community members. However, still to this day, we continue to suffer with insecurities and lack of trust.”
Said Cozens to the Bakers: “I’d like you to think about what was said and you have the option yourselves to think about whether there is anything you wish to voluntarily do as far as interacting with the community.”
Under the law, they could have been jailed up to six months. But Cozens said prior court decisions meant he was unable to interfere with a joint submission by Crown and defence lawyers, unless it was blatantly unfit.
“This was a very premeditated, planned, deliberate action that, as I said, was somewhat cavalier and careless in its approach, it put the community at risk,” Cozens said. “The Bakers, by getting negative tests quickly, at least alleviated some of the harm that resulted in the sense of potential physical harm, but there had already been some damage done psychologically and trust within the community.”
The judge said there was no physical harm because nobody was infected. He compared it to the case of Vancouver’s Mohammed Movassaghi, who turned his Telus Garden condo into an illegal booze can in repeated violation of public health orders. The judge in that case sentenced Movassaghi to a day in jail after already serving 10 days after his arrest and likened Movassaghi’s actions to that of a fentanyl dealer, in that he voluntarily assumed the risk of manslaughter if a partygoer had become infected and died.
“While jail sentences are available and I appreciate that, certainly, that some people may feel that a jail sentence should be imposed. I certainly cannot say the sentence being put forward for the maximum fine is unfit,” Cozens said.
Cozens made no mention of Rod Baker’s wealth.
Late last year, Great Canadian Gaming announced its takeover by Apollo Global Management. A judge in Vancouver approved the $45-a-share transaction on the last day of 2020 — the value of 52 shares would cover the Bakers’ court fine.
Insider trading reports show that Rod Baker netted $11 million after selling 500,000 Great Canadian stock options at the end of 2020.
Ironically, the show theatre in Great Canadian’s flagship River Rock casino in Richmond is a temporary mass-vaccination clinic operated by Vancouver Coastal Health and staffed by Vancouver International Airport workers. The casino, which is at the centre of B.C.’s money laundering scandal, is expected to reopen from its pandemic closure beginning in July.
The June 16 hearing happened with the backdrop of new concerns over the spread of the virus in Yukon. On June 14, officials said cases increased from 18 to 21 due to a variant of the disease. More than 75% of Yukon adults are fully vaccinated.
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