Minister says couple who allegedly flew to Yukon for vaccine should consider 'reparations'
TORONTO -- Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller has a simple message for anyone thinking of following the lead of the Vancouver couple who allegedly flew to a remote community in Yukon to jump the COVID-19 vaccination queue: Don't.
"There's extreme scarcity of the doses and some people, for whatever reason, [are] trying to game the system," Miller said Wednesday at a press conference.
"You shouldn't do it. It's dumb. It's wrong. It's unfair."
Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker are each facing fines of $1,150 for allegedly failing to self-isolate and failing to behave in a manner consistent with the declarations they made upon their arrival in Yukon, according to court documents obtained by CTV News. Rod Baker has also resigned as CEO of casino operator Great Canadian Gaming.
The allegations are tied to claims by government officials in Yukon that a couple chartered a plane to Beaver Creek, Yukon, and claimed to be local workers in the community in order to obtain vaccinations.
With remote communities prioritized for early vaccination, Yukon has already started to roll out doses to anybody who wants them in places such as Beaver Creek, which is located near the Yukon-Alaska border and had a population of 93 in the 2016 census.
Most people who enter Yukon for non-essential reasons have to provide a 14-day self-isolation plan and complete a declaration form with details about their circumstances. Officials in Yukon have said the couple filled out declarations, but did not follow the territory's isolation rules.
APTN reported Tuesday that the couple told staff at the vaccination clinic they were working at a local motel. After receiving their vaccinations, the couple asked for a ride to the airport, raising suspicions among Beaver Creek residents who know the airport is rarely used by locals.
'BLATANT DISPLAY OF DISRESPECT'
Asked about the situation on Wednesday, Miller described the couple's actions as "maybe the dumbest thing I've seen in a long while," and suggested the couple undergo some "personal reflection" about their alleged queue-jumping.
"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," he said.
"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.
"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," he said.
NORTHERN VACCINATION PROGRESS
With remote and Indigenous communities prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations, the three territories have much higher vaccination rates than any of the provinces.
At least 21 per cent of residents of the Northwest Territories had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Wednesday, according to the CTV News vaccine tracker, while the vaccination rate stood at 12 per cent in Nunavut and 10.4 per cent in Yukon. The leading province, tiny Prince Edward Island, has vaccinated 3.3 per cent of its population.
The northern rollout has not been affected by the production issues at Pfizer that have delayed the delivery of up to 400,000 doses to Canada and resulted in provinces having to slow down their vaccination programs.
That's because there was never any plan to send Pfizer doses to the territories. The requirement for ultra-cold storage of the Pfizer vaccine makes that impractical. Instead, the territories are exclusively being shipped the Moderna vaccine, which can last for weeks at refrigerated temperatures.
As of Jan. 21, the territories had received 40,800 doses of the vaccine, or about 12 per cent of Canada's total Moderna supply. Another 20,400 doses are expected to be shipped north in the first week of February.
The federal government has said the territories will receive enough doses to vaccinate 75 per cent of their population by the end of March.
The hotspot for COVID-19 activity in the territories is currently Arviat, Nunavut. Seventeen new cases have been detected since Saturday in the community of approximately 2,700 people.
The Northwest Territories reported seven new cases between Jan. 15 and Jan. 21, but has not had any since then. Yukon has not reported a new case of COVID-19 since Jan. 8.