Canada couple charged after taking COVID jab meant for Indigenous

Wealthy couple flew to rural, First Nations community in Yukon and posed as workers to get vaccine, officials say.

A healthcare worker prepares to administer a Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at The Michener Institute, in Toronto, Ontario on December 14, 2020 [File: Carlos Osario/Pool/AFP]
A healthcare worker prepares to administer a Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at The Michener Institute, in Toronto, Ontario on December 14, 2020 [File: Carlos Osario/Pool/AFP]

The leader of a remote First Nations community in northern Canada has expressed outrage after a couple from British Columbia travelled there under false pretenses to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) first reported that Rod Baker, 55, and his wife, Ekaterina Baker, 32, had travelled from Vancouver to Beaver Creek, Yukon, and posed as local workers in order to receive a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Beaver Creek is located over 400km northwest of Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon territory, near the border with Alaska. The vast majority of the community’s residents – 85 out of 93 residents, according to Canada’s 2016 census – are Indigenous.

“How dare these two privileged multi-millionaires … lie to medical professionals, putting our community at risk, to jump the queue?” White River First Nation Chief Angela Demit asked in a statement shared on social media.

“It’s clear to me that because we are a predominantly Indigenous community, that they assumed we were naive. There must be a clear signal sent that this behaviour is unacceptable here in Yukon and all of Canada.”

Canada began COVID-19 vaccine distribution in December after it authorised the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for emergency use.

Government officials said the Moderna vaccine, which does not need to be stored at the ultra-low temperatures that Pfizer’s does, would be distributed to isolated and remote communities, including in the country’s northern territories.

Yukon currently has no active cases of COVID-19, but anyone who arrives in the territory must self-isolate for 14 days in order to prevent the possible spread of the virus.

COVID-19 outbreaks in other northern Indigenous communities in Canada, including in the territory of Nunavut, have fuelled concerns about the safety of residents, especially the elderly, who live far from comprehensive health services.

‘Outraged’

“I’m absolutely outraged,” Rita Luxton, who runs an inn in Beaver Creek, told CBC News about the Bakers.

“They really put all of us at risk,” Luxton said. “I can’t believe that these people lied, and not only that, but that the government didn’t catch it.”

Documents filed in the Yukon court registry show the pair were charged on Thursday with having failed to behave in a manner “consistent with [their] declaration”.

CBC earlier reported that the Bakers allegedly said they were local motel workers.

They also were charged with failing to quarantine for 14 days on arrival in Yukon. Each was fined 1,150 Canadian dollars ($905.12), according to the tickets.

Rod Baker did not immediately return Reuters news agency’s request for comment.

He has since resigned as CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, the company said in a statement on Monday. The company offered no additional details, saying it did not comment on personnel matters.

Yukon’s Community Services Minister John Streicker said in a statement that he was “outraged” and found it “disturbing that people would choose to put fellow Canadians at risk in this manner”.

A spokesman for the Yukon government said it would implement new requirements for proving residency in the territory.

Source : Al Jazeera and News agencies

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