TORONTO, Ontario (CTV News)-Minister Marc Miller of Indigenous Services has a simple message for anyone thinking of following the lead of the Vancouver couple who reportedly flew to a remote Yukon community to jump the vaccination queue for COVID-19: Don’t.
Miller said Wednesday at a press conference that “There’s an extreme scarcity of the doses and some people, for whatever reason, [are] trying to game the system. You shouldn’t do it. It’s dumb. It’s wrong. It’s unfair.”
According to court documents obtained by CTV News, Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker are each facing fines of $1,150 for allegedly failing to self-isolate and failing to act in a way consistent with the declarations they made upon their arrival in Yukon. As CEO of casino operator Great Canadian Gaming, Rod Baker has also resigned.
The claims are related to allegations by Yukon government officials that a couple chartered a plane to Beaver Creek, Yukon, and pretended to be local community workers in order to get vaccinations.
Yukon has already begun rolling out doses to everyone who needs them in places like Beaver Creek, which is situated near the Yukon-Alaska border and had a population of 93 in the 2016 census, with remote communities prioritized for early vaccination.
For non-essential purposes, most individuals entering Yukon have to provide a 14-day self-isolation plan and fill out a declaration form with information about their circumstances. Yukon officials said the couple filled out declarations but did not follow the isolation rules of the territory.
On Tuesday, APTN reported that the couple told employees at the vaccination clinic that they were working at a local motel. The couple asked for a ride to the airport after getting their vaccinations, raising doubts among Beaver Creek residents who know the airport is rarely used by locals. Asked about Wednesday’s situation, Miller described the behavior of the couple as “maybe the dumbest thing I’ve seen in a long while,” and suggested that the couple undergo some “personal reflection” about their alleged queue-jumping.
He said that “I understand these people are wealthy and I won’t tell them what to do with their money but, you know, perhaps reparations are due at some level. There’s certainly a gesture of individual reconciliation and contrition that can be exercised, and certainly communities in need like White River First Nation would more than appreciate that.”
Beaver Creek is the home of the White River First Nation, which has called on the RCMP to investigate the couple’s activities, with an eye toward a more severe penalty.
Kluane Adamek, the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Yukon, said in a statement Tuesday that Rod Baker owes a “moral debt” to the community.
He added that “These actions are a blatant display of disrespect and an exemplification of true privilege and entitlement; a selfish millionaire and his wife stole doses of the vaccine from a vulnerable population and put an entire community, nation, and region at risk.”
The three territories have much greater vaccination rates than any of the provinces, with remote and indigenous communities prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations.
According to the CTV News vaccine tracker, at least 21 percent of Northwest Territories residents had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Wednesday, while the vaccination rate stood at 12 percent in Nunavut and 10.4 percent in Yukon.
3.3 percent of its population has been vaccinated by the leading province, tiny Prince Edward Island.
Pfizer’s production issues, which have postponed the supply of up to 400,000 doses to Canada and resulted in provinces having to slow down their vaccine programs, have not affected the northern rollout.
That’s because there was never any intention for the territories to send Pfizer doses. This is made impractical by the requirement for ultra-cold storage of the Pfizer vaccine. Instead, the Moderna vaccine, which can last for weeks at refrigerated temperatures, is distributed exclusively to the territories.
As of Jan. 21, 40,800 doses of the vaccine had been obtained by the provinces or about 12 percent of Canada’s total supply of Moderna. Another 20,400 doses are expected in the first week of February to be shipped north.
The federal government has said that by the end of March, the territories will receive adequate doses to vaccinate 75 percent of their population.
Currently, the hotspot for COVID-19 operation in the territories is Arviat, Nunavut. Seventeen new cases in the community of approximately 2,700 individuals have been identified since Saturday.
Between Jan. 15 and Jan. 21, the Northwest Territories reported seven new cases, but they have not had any since then. Since Jan. 8, Yukon has not reported a new case of COVID-19.