On a cold morning in late January, three planes landed on the only runway in a remote community in northern Canada.
The first two carried members of a mobile team from the Yukon Territory health department who were there to administer Covid-19 vaccines to Beaver Creek residents. The small settlement of about 100 inhabitants had been prioritized due to its older population, many of whom belong to the Rio Blanco First Nation.
The third plane, a fighter plane, was unexpected.
On board were the casino executive Rod Baker and his wife, the actor Ekaterina Baker, who had broken quarantine and flown to Beaver Creek for the sole purpose of receiving doses of the Moderna vaccine.
For the next several hours, the couple traveled into town, posing as employees of a local motel, getting their shots, and then escaping as quickly as they had arrived.
As Canada struggles with vaccine shortages and delays, the Bakers’ hoax has been met with contempt and disbelief. The incident, in which a wealthy white couple received treatment aimed at the most vulnerable members of an indigenous community, has highlighted the stark divisions of class and race that run through the country.
“They saw the most vulnerable people within the community on full display and they continued to get the vaccine,” said Janet Vander Meer of White River First Nation. “That’s what disgusts me.”
When their chartered plane landed in Beaver Creek, the Bakers told airport staff that they were heading north toward Dawson City, but that the fog forced them to land. They would wait in Beaver Creek until the weather cleared, they said.
“Obviously they misled the officials when they landed in Whitehorse [the territorial capital] and they tricked people when they came to the vaccination clinic, ”said Dave Sharp, owner of Tintina Air, whose company was tricked into flying with the Bakers. “They were saying different things to different people.”
While the pilot waited, the couple took a trip down the city’s main street – a handful of hotels, gas stations and a tourist information center, surrounded by black spruce and rolling boreal forests.
“It really has been a kind of ghost town. So the day of the vaccination was meant to be a little ray of light at the end of the tunnel for the people, ”said Vander Meer, who worked with territorial officials to help organize the vaccination event. “The arrival of the clinic and the vaccine was a cause for celebration.”
Since early January, the Yukon government has used two mobile vaccination teams to target vulnerable and hard-to-reach areas like Beaver Creek. The teams, Balto and Togo, are named after two famous sled dogs, in a nod to the harsh conditions in the region.
It is not clear how the Bakers found out about the team’s visit to Beaver Creek, nearly 3,000 km (1,900 miles) from their luxury condo in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia.
As a director of Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, which runs racetracks and casinos across the country, Rod Baker made a gain of C $ 45.9 million ($ 35.7 million) in stock options exercised over the past 13 months, according to Globe and Mail. He resigned after Yukon officials indicted him. Ekaterina He has appeared in several movies, including Chick Fight and Fatman.
After Bakers allegedly asked to be taken to the airport, members of the vaccination team became suspicious. Calls to local motels confirmed that neither man was employed. The team then contacted Yukon law enforcement officers.
In Beaver Creek, where residents learned of the couple’s ploy from local journalists, not the government, the immediate response was panic: Thanks to their isolation, the community had not seen any confirmed cases of the virus, but the age and age. Existing health conditions meant that its population was firmly in the demographic most vulnerable to Covid-19.
“I’ve never seen anyone charter flights to Beaver Creek,” said Quanah Giuseppe VanderMeer, another White River First Nation member. “I’ve lived there most of my life and it scared me to hear that they could sneak in like this.”
Janet Vander Meer, who had spent months working on the logistics of the vaccine delivery, went home and cried.
“I felt like I had let my community down,” he said. “The mental cost that these people impose on me and my family, making me feel that I did something wrong, that is not acceptable. It’s something I’m still dealing with. “
Janet Vander Meeer is still furious to think that before receiving their own vaccinations, the Bakers would have seen their mother, who is in hospice and moves in with a walker, as well as an 88-year-old Beaver Creek resident waiting in the row. for the vaccine.
“You’d think at that point, one of them would say, ‘Okay honey, let’s get back to our chartered plane. But no, they got their chance, “he said.
News of the Bakers’ trip reached the world when local newspapers reported that the couple had been fined for violating lockdown rules. And when the size of the fine – C $ 2,300 ($ 1,800) – was compared to the couple’s wealth, the outrage only increased.
“There is nothing more anti-Canadian than going to another jurisdiction to jump the line because you have the means to do so,” British Columbia Prime Minister John Horgan told reporters.
Last week, Yukon officials announced that tickets had been suspended and that the Bakers were summoned to appear in court, where they will face charges of not isolating themselves for 14 days and failing to act consistently with their statements upon arrival at the Yukon. If convicted, they could face up to six months in jail. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is also investigating. The Bakers have not commented publicly since the charges were filed.
Coupled with outrage at the Bakers’ behavior, the saga has highlighted deep-seated racial inequalities in Canada’s healthcare system: many remote indigenous communities lack sufficient resources to care for residents and are especially vulnerable to external infections. during the pandemic.
“We know this is a system that has failed indigenous peoples … and has treated indigenous peoples as second-class citizens,” said Marc Miller, minister of indigenous services, at a conference on racism in the health system last week.
Janet Vander Meer said her efforts were focused on the safety of White River and making sure nothing like this happened again.
“I don’t care what they were doing or thinking when they came here. I don’t have time for that, ”he said. “Right now, I need to focus on preparing the community to receive the second dose of the vaccine safely. Because that’s what matters most. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism