The couple in the community hall that was serving as Beaver Creek’s mobile vaccine clinic clearly weren’t locals. The woman’s expensive-looking parka did not go unnoticed, nor did her red travel bag.
As Jyl Ledergerber waited her turn and watched the pair, the co-owner of a RV park and motel admits she was irritated. She figured the couple must have flown in from Whitehorse in an effort to get vaccinated earlier than they could in the territory’s capital. Beaver Creek, just east of the Alaskan border, was one of the first places in the Yukon to have a specialized public health team come to town to deliver the Moderna vaccine to the 100 or so locals, who had the option of prebooking online or walking in off the hamlet’s lone thoroughfare.
“I thought, ‘Whitehorse people are trying to jump the line because in Whitehorse only people over 65 can get their shots right now,’ ” Ms. Ledergerber said.
She got her shot just before the couple, who Yukon authorities said presented B.C. and Ontario health cards to get their dose.
Ms. Ledergerber’s hunch was close: The couple in the waiting room were from out of town, but from a long, long way out of town. The pair have since been identified as Rod Baker and his wife, Ekaterina. Until a week ago, Mr. Baker was the chief executive officer of the Great Canadian Gaming Corp., who earned a $900,000 salary the previous fiscal year and recently made nearly $46-million profit on stock options. Ms. Baker is a fledgling actor.
The wealthy couple’s elaborate ruse to acquire a COVID-19 vaccine in a remote community by posing as local motel workers prompted disbelief and outrage, with B.C.’s Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth calling their behaviour “despicable” and federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller saying the entire episode was “maybe the dumbest thing I’ve seen in a long while.”
But the story also hit a raw nerve, inflaming concerns that those with means and gall can jump the long queue for a shot as many struggle during the pandemic and vaccine makers stumble with production issues.
Rod Baker was the 55-year-old CEO of Great Canadian Gaming Corp. – one of country’s largest gambling conglomerates. His wife, Ekaterina Baker, 32, is an actor who has appeared in a handful of feature films. The couple has lived in Vancouver, but more recently, had been staying in a resort community just outside Collingwood, Ont., about 160 kilometres northwest of Toronto.
About two weeks ago, the Bakers reached out to Dave Sharp’s tiny airline to charter a day trip from Whitehorse, travelling 445 kilometres northwest to Beaver Creek. To him, the lone passengers on his nine-seat plane looked like the hundreds of everyday Yukoners he has taxied all over the territory in the past decade.
Mr. Sharp would not say what his clients told him was the reason for their trip. He dropped them off in Beaver Creek and waited at the airstrip for them to return for the same-day flight back to Whitehorse.
Yukon Minister of Community Services John Streicker and others in the community provided details of what happened on Jan 21. The Bakers had told clinic staff they worked down the highway at the 1202 Motor Inn. Suspicions were raised when they asked for a ride back to the airport. No one offered to help them out, so the pair walked almost three kilometres back to Mr. Sharp before the pilot and his clients lifted off for Whitehorse.
Mr. Sharp said it wasn’t until he and the Bakers arrived in Whitehorse that he discovered the purpose of the charter. The Bakers were met by government inspectors, who issued the couple a total of $2,300 in penalties for breaking the Yukon’s pandemic-related rules.
“We were misled,” said Mr. Sharp, who refused to divulge more details of his conversations with his passengers. “Would I put myself in this with these people who live in Toronto/Vancouver when they hadn’t isolated? For any amount of money? No, obviously.”
The Globe and Mail made multiple efforts to contact the Bakers for comment. Ms. Baker’s social-media accounts have been deactivated and her cellphone also appeared disconnected last week after The Globe called and texted the number. Jennie Cunningham, the Whitehorse lawyer listed in court documents as acting on behalf of the couple, did not return requests for comment.
However, public comments made by both Bakers over the past year indicate each of them appeared to be taking the pandemic very seriously.
In June, Ms. Baker spoke of respecting the rules, hoping for better days and making the best of things by focusing on work and an acting career that has already seen her appear in several Hollywood films.
“A few of my very favourite cities in Europe unfortunately now are not the best place to travel to. We are just waiting and hopefully the pandemic is going to settle down,” Ms. Baker said on an episode of the Hollywood gossip podcast That’s The Tea with Alessandra G.
On an earnings call this past August, when asked about reopening 25 casinos located across four provinces, Mr. Baker underscored how he and the Great Canadian Gaming Corp. were mitigating the risks posed by the virus.
“I’ll just be totally honest, we’re in the casino business here and we are not going to make people get sick,” he said during the Aug. 12 presentation, according to a transcript published by Reuters.
“And if we have to start more modestly … then that’s what we want to do, and that’s what we’re happy to do.”
Three days after the Bakers received the fines in the Yukon, Great Canadian announced Mr. Baker had resigned from the company he had led for a decade. He had assumed the role after his father’s acquisition of masses of shares in the firm.
Gordon Flatt, an investor who lives in Bermuda, grew up in Winnipeg with Mr. Baker and says he cannot understand why his lifelong friend made a series of incredibly poor judgments.
“It was the stupidest, utterly stupidest thing, that anybody could ever do especially when they’re the CEO of a public Canadian listed company and regulated and worth $1.5-billion. It makes no sense,” said Mr. Flatt, who added that his family has done business with Mr. Baker and his family for 25 years.
Mr. Baker shepherded a steady growth in profits as Great Canadian secured a cluster of contracts to operate casinos in and around Toronto. On the West Coast, massive amounts of cash flowed through casinos during an era marred by allegations that casinos were being used by local and transnational criminals to launder money.
New cash restrictions in recent years have slowed profits at the company’s B.C. casinos and the pandemic has paused most of its operations. As the company closes a deal to be bought by Apollo Global Management Inc., Mr. Baker was planning to continue as CEO of Great Canadian.
Mr. Flatt, who was listed as a director of Bermuda-based Baker Associates Ltd. along with Mr. Baker and other Baker family members, said he had a brief phone call with his friend last week and urged him to atone publicly for the episode so he can move on.
“It’s horrible, but it’s not like there was a dead body in the back seat of a car,” Mr. Flatt told The Globe last week in a phone interview.
Mr. Flatt said Mr. Baker knows what he did was wrong.
Ms. Baker grew up far from Bay Street. As a four-year-old in her native Russia, she told her family she wanted to be an actor, according to an interview on the podcast That’s The Tea with Alessandra G.
Three years ago, after graduating York University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, she turned up as a prospect for one of the lead parts in Oksana and Viktor, a short film that Mark Datuin had written and was to direct in Toronto.
“We don’t recall the exact events that led to Ekaterina being considered for the project. We had likely come across her at one of the numerous indie film networking events in Toronto leading up to [the Toronto International Film Festival] back in 2018,” Mr. Datuin wrote in an e-mail exchange with The Globe.
Ms. Baker has, according to the Internet Movie Data Base, accumulated a roster of credits, with listed parts in eight films featuring such high-profile names as Mel Gibson, Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar Isaac and Michael Keaton. The website also lists her as an executive producer in four films. Three other movies that IMDB lists her as acting in are either being filmed or in postproduction.
The couple were married in the south of France in 2017, according to their wedding invitation website.
Until recently the Bakers had rented a place in Vancouver and the couple told Yukon authorities ticketing them at the Whitehorse airport that their address is a two-bedroom condo at Vancouver’s Shangri-La high-rise.
A woman who answered the buzzer last Tuesday at that unit in the Vancouver tower said she had moved in about two months ago after the Bakers ended their tenancy.
People in the small resort community of The Blue Mountains, Ont., say they regularly saw Ms. Baker walking her yellow lab Bruno near the Baker family chalet at the bottom of the private Craigleith ski club Mr. Baker joined almost two decades ago. People in the area say the couple had lived there from at least last summer until around Christmas.
Last Wednesday, the tickets were stayed and the Bakers were served instead with a notice to appear in a Whitehorse court in May, charged each with one count of failing to self-isolate for 14 days and one count of failing to act in a manner consistent with their declarations upon arriving in the Yukon. If convicted, they could spend six months in jail.
With a report from Jaren Kerr and research by Rick Cash and Stephanie Chambers
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