The couple in the community hall that served as the mobile vaccine clinic for Beaver Creek obviously weren’t locals. The expensive-looking parka of the woman did not go unnoticed, and neither did her red travel bag.
The co-owner of an RV park and motel admits that she was irritated as Jyl Ledergerber waited for her turn and watched the pair. In an attempt to get vaccinated faster than they could in the territory’s capital, she figured the couple must have flown in from Whitehorse. Beaver Creek was one of the first places in the Yukon to have a specialized public health team come to town just east of the Alaskan border to bring the Moderna vaccine to the 100 or so locals who had the option of pre-booking online or walking in from the lone thoroughfare of the hamlet.
Ms. Ledergerber said that “I thought, ‘Whitehorse people are trying to jump the line because in Whitehorse only people over 65 can get their shots right now.”
She got her shot just before the couple, who Yukon authorities said presented B.C. and Ontario health cards to get their dose.
The hunch of Ms. Ledergerber was close: the couple in the waiting room were from outside the town but from a long, long way out of town. Since then, the pair have been identified as Rod Baker and Ekaterina, his wife. Mr. Baker was the chief executive officer of the Great Canadian Gaming Corp who until a week ago, receiving a $900,000 salary in the previous fiscal year and recently making about $46 million in stock options profits. Ms. Baker is a fledgling actor.
The elaborate ruse of the wealthy couple to acquire a COVID-19 vaccine in a remote community by posing as local motel workers caused disbelief and outrage, with B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth calling their behavior “despicable” and Federal Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller saying the whole episode was “maybe the dumbest thing I’ve seen in a long time.”
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 struggles during the pandemic and vaccine makers stumble with production issues.
Rod Baker was the 55-year-old CEO of one of the largest gambling conglomerates in the world, the Great Canadian Gaming Corp. His wife, the 32-year-old Ekaterina Baker, is an actress who has acted in a few feature films. The couple lived in Vancouver, but more recently stayed just outside Collingwood, Ont., about 160 kilometers northwest of Toronto, in a resort community.
The Bakers reached out to Dave Sharp’s small airline about two weeks ago to charter a day trip from Whitehorse, heading 445 kilometers northwest to Beaver Creek. To him, on his nine-seat plane, the lone passengers looked like the hundreds of everyday Yukoners he’d been taxing all over the territory for the past decade.
Mr. Sharp did not say that the reason for their trip was what his customers told him. He dropped them off in Beaver Creek and waited for them on the airstrip to return to Whitehorse for the same-day flight.
Information of what happened on Jan 21 was given by Yukon Minister of Community Services John Streicker and others inside the community. The Bakers had told clinic workers that at the 1202 Motor Inn they were working down the highway. When they requested a ride back to the airport, suspicions were raised. No one offered to help them out, so before the pilot and his clients took off for Whitehorse, the pair walked almost three kilometers back to Mr. Sharp.
It was not until he and the Bakers arrived in Whitehorse that he discovered the purpose of the charter, Mr. Sharp said. Government inspectors, who gave the couple a total of $2,300 in penalties for violating the pandemic-related rules of the Yukon, visited the Bakers.
Mr. Sharp, who refused to divulge more details of his conversations with his passengers said that “We were misled. 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.”
There were some attempts made by the Globe and Mail to contact the Bakers for comment. The social media accounts of Ms. Baker were deactivated and her mobile phone was also disconnected last week after the number was called and texted by The Globe. Jennie Cunningham, the Whitehorse lawyer listed as working on behalf of the couple in court documents, did not return requests for comment.
Public comments made by the two Bakers over the past year, however, suggest that neither one of them seemed to take the pandemic very seriously.
In June, by focusing on work and an acting career that has already seen her appear in many Hollywood films, Ms. Baker spoke of following the rules, hoping for better days, and making the best of things.
Ms. Baker said on an episode of the Hollywood gossip podcast That’s The Tea with Alessandra G that “A few of my very favorite 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.”
On an earning 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.
He said during the Aug. 12 presentation, according to a transcript published by Reuters that “I’ll just be totally honest, we’re in the casino business here and we are not going to make people get sick. 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.”
Great Canadian announced that Mr. Baker had resigned from the company he had managed for a decade, three days after the Bakers earned the fines in the Yukon. He had assumed the role after the acquisition of masses of shares in the company by his father.
Gordon Flatt, an investor living in Bermuda, grew up with Mr. Baker in Winnipeg and says he can’t understand why a series of incredibly poor judgments were made by his lifelong friend.
Mr. Flatt, who added that his family has done business with Mr. Baker and his family for 25 years said that “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.”
As Great Canadian secured a cluster of contracts to run casinos in and around Toronto, Mr. Baker shepherded a steady rise in earnings. On the West Coast, during a period marred by claims that casinos were being used by local and transnational criminals to launder money, massive amounts of cash flowed into casinos.
In recent years, new cash restrictions have slowed earnings at the company’s B.C. Most of its activities have been paused by casinos and the pandemic. Mr. Baker intended to remain as CEO of Great Canadian as the company closes a deal to be acquired by Apollo Global Management Inc.
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.
Mr. Flatt told The Globe last week in a phone interview that “It’s horrible, but it’s not like there was a dead body in the back seat of a car.”
Mr. Flatt said Mr. Baker knows what he did was wrong.
Ms. Baker was raised far away from Bay Street. As a four-year-old in her native Russia, according to an interview with Alessandra G on the podcast, That’s The Tea, she told her family she wanted to be an actress.
Three years ago, after graduating from York University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, she appeared in Oksana and Viktor, a short film that Mark Datuin had written and was to direct in Toronto, as a prospect for one of the lead parts.
Mr. Datuin wrote in an e-mail exchange with The Globe that “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.”
According to the Internet Movie Data Base, Ms. Baker has accumulated a roster of credits with listed parts in eight films featuring high-profile names such as Mel Gibson, Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar Isaac, and Michael Keaton. As an executive producer, the website also lists her in four films. Either filmed or in postproduction are three other films that IMDB lists her as acting in.
According to their wedding invitation website, the couple got married in the south of France in 2017.
The Bakers had rented a place in Vancouver until now, and the couple told Yukon officials ticketing them at Whitehorse airport that their address is a two-bedroom condo at the Shangri-La high-rise in Vancouver.
A woman who replied to the buzzer at that unit in the Vancouver tower last Tuesday said she had moved in about two months ago after the Bakers had terminated their tenancy.
People in The Blue Mountains, Ont., a small resort community, claim they saw Ms. Baker walking her yellow lab Bruno regularly near the Baker family chalet at the bottom of the private Craigleith ski club Mr. Baker joined nearly two decades ago. The couple lived there from at least last summer until around Christmas, people in the area claim.
The tickets stayed last Wednesday, and the Bakers were served instead with a notice to appear in a Whitehorse court in May, each charged with one count of failing to self-isolate for 14 days and one count of failing to behave in a manner consistent with their declarations upon arrival in the Yukon. They will spend six months in prison if convicted.