The millionaire Canadian couple who chartered a private plane to a remote community and skipped the coronavirus vaccine queue to receive doses for indigenous elders has been fined C $ 2,300 but was not sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to violating the public health rules.
The size of the fine imposed on former casino executive Rodney Baker and his wife, actress Ekaterina Baker, sparked frustration amid members of the White River First Nation, many of whom wanted the couple to face harsher repercussions.
On January 21, the couple chartered a fighter plane to the small settlement of Beaver Creek, where they tricked locals into receiving a vaccine. They were detained while trying to board a flight out of the Yukon Territory.
At Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, Judge Michael Cozens questioned the “appropriateness” of the couple’s decision to telephone the process, rather than appear on video. After a short break, the couple appeared on video and were ordered to pay the maximum fine under the Civil Emergency Measures Act.
Cozens acknowledged that the Bakers’ actions were “highly premeditated” and “arrogant” given the risks they posed to the small community, but said the fines seemed 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 asked the couple to receive six months in jail, the maximum possible sentence.
Janet Vander Meer, who made the five-hour drive from White River to the territorial capital several times during court proceedings, told The Guardian it was “unfortunate” that the couple had not received a harsher sentence, but said she was glad that the whole process had come to an end.
“The judge seemed disgusted by his actions, but he also seemed to be limited in what he could do,” he said.
In a community impact statement read in court, Vander Meer said the incident had cast a negative shadow over the community. He also asked the Bakers to consider the impact their actions had on residents.
“Educate yourself. Educate yourself about First Nations people, about small communities,” he said. “Educate yourself, please.”
Crown prosecutor Kelly McGill said the government had initially considered going to jail for the couple’s “high level of deception”, but that their guilty plea and the fact that they had later made two donations of C $ 5,000 to the global Covax vaccination scheme were mitigating factors.
The couple’s attorney, Jennifer Cunningham, said the Bakers “unreservedly apologize for their actions” and lamented the effects of their actions.
Vander Meer, however, said she was disappointed that the couple had not made an effort to reach out to the community to apologize since the January incident.
“They had every opportunity to just call me. I don’t care if they are rich or not, just be human. What they did was morally wrong, ”he said. “The only thing that makes me feel good is that if you look up ‘The Bakers’ and ‘Beaver Creek’ online, you see very clearly what these people did and how it affected them. And I think it is a more just punishment than the one that was presented in court today. “