Great Britain

White couple who got vaccines meant for First Nation are fined but not jailed

The millionaire Canadian couple who chartered a private plane to a remote community and jumped the coronavirus vaccine queue to receive doses intended for elderly Indigenous people have been fined C$2,300 but were not sentenced to jail after pleading guilty to breaking public health rules.

The size of the fine imposed on the former casino executive Rodney Baker and his wife, the actor Ekaterina Baker, on Wednesday prompted frustration amid members of the White River First Nation, many of whom wanted the couple to face stiffer repercussions.

On 21 January, the couple chartered a bush plane to the tiny settlement of Beaver Creek, where they deceived locals in order to receive a vaccine. They were apprehended as they tried to board a flight out of the Yukon territory.

At Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, Justice Michael Cozens questioned the “appropriateness” of the couple’s decision to phone into the proceedings, rather than appearing by video feed. After a brief recess, the couple appeared by video and were ordered to pay the maximum fine under the Civil Emergency Measures Act.

Cozens acknowledged the Bakers’ actions were “highly premeditated” and “cavalier” given the risks posed to the small community but said the fines appeared sufficient. He encouraged the Bakers to contact White River First Nation to make amends.

In a statement before the couple’s first court date, the First Nation had called on the couple to receive six months in jail, the maximum sentence possible.

Janet Vander Meer, who made the five hour drive from White River to the territorial capital several times during the court proceedings, told the Guardian it was “unfortunate” that the couple hadn’t received a harsher sentence – but said she was glad the whole process had come to an end.

“The judge seemed to be disgusted by their actions, but he also appeared to be limited with what he could do,” she said.

In a community impact statement read in court, Vander Meer said the incident had cast a negative shadow over the community. She also called on the Bakers to spend consider the impact their actions had on residents.

“Educate yourself. Educate yourself on First Nations people, on small communities,” she said. “Educate yourself, please.”

The crown prosecutor Kelly McGill said the government had initially considered pursuing jail time for the couple’s “high level of deception”, but that their guilty plea and the fact that they had later made two C$5,000 donations to the global Covax vaccination scheme were mitigating factors.

The couple’s lawyer Jennifer Cunningham said the Bakers “apologize unreservedly for their actions” and regretted the effects of their actions.

Vander Meer, however, said she was disappointed the couple had not made an effort to contact the community to apologize since the January incident.

“They had every opportunity to just give me a call. I don’t care if they’re wealthy or not – just be a human. What they did was morally wrong,” she said. “The one thing that makes me feel good is if you search ‘the Bakers’ and ‘Beaver Creek’ online, you see very clearly what these people did and how that’s affected them. And I think that’s more of a just punishment than what came down in court today.”

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