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Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after accusations of vaccine queue-jumping

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Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker.

The CEO and president of Great Canadian Gaming Corp. has resigned from his job after he and his wife were accused of travelling from B.C. to the Yukon to jump the coronavirus vaccination queue.

Rod Baker tendered his resignation after officials said he and wife Ekaterina Baker were accused of flying from Vancouver to Whitehorse to receive doses of the Moderna Inc. vaccine in a remote town called Beaver Creek, with a large proportion of Indigenous people.

The Bakers were ticketed and charged January 21 under Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for failing to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival to Yukon and failing to behave in a manner consistent with their declaration. Each was issued two $575 tickets by Yukon authorities.

Yukon Community Services Minister John Streicker said the pair had claimed to be new employees at an area motel. After getting the vaccine they headed back to the airport, where RCMP met them and issued the tickets.

“I am outraged by this selfish behaviour, and find it disturbing that people would choose to put fellow Canadians at risk in this manner,” Streicker said. “Reports allege these individuals were deceptive and violated emergency measures for their own advantage, which is completely unacceptable at any time, but especially during a public health crisis.”

The Bakers have taken particular criticism for potentially taking vaccines away from vulnerable Indigenous people in the area.

Nearby White River First Nation issued a statement to media calling the alleged actions selfish and putting elderly and high-risk individuals at risk.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and the Bakers have an opportunity to contest them.

The tickets show the pair lives in Downtown Vancouver’s luxury condo tower Shangri-La.

As CEO, president and director of the gaming giant, Baker earned $10.6 million in 2019, according to company financials. However, he is set to receive upwards of $28.7 million from shares he held prior to the Dec. 21, 2020 sale of Great Canadian to a private fund company.

Baker was set to receive $24.9 million payout from his accumulated shares and options, according to company filings. That payout was based on Great Canadian being sold for $39 per share to Raptor Acquisition Corp., an affiliate of funds managed by affiliates of Apollo Global Management, Inc. However, the final sale came in at $45 per share at a Dec. 21 shareholders meeting. That extra 15.4% could translate into a $28.7 million payout for Rod Baker.

Baker ran Great Canadian’s flagship B.C. casino River Rock Casino and Resort during a time when money laundering is alleged to have grown exponentially.

The matter is being examined at length at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in B.C.

Former Great Canadian employee Walter Soo claims Baker and vice-president Terrence Doyle (who now assumes the role of interim president and CEO for Baker) were ultimately responsible for compliance with anti-money laundering laws and regulations. 

The company is not explicitly linking Baker’s alleged violations of pandemic health restrictions to his resignation Sunday.

Great Canadian spokesperson Chuck Keeling issued a statement that, “As a matter of policy, Great Canadian does not comment on personnel matters relating to former employees.”

Keeling added, “Great Canadian’s board of directors has no tolerance for actions that run counter to the company’s objectives and values. Since the onset of the pandemic our overriding focus as a company has been on doing everything we can to keep our people healthy, and to enable our communities to combat the spread of COVID-19.”

The alleged queue-jumping comes as B.C. revealed last week it was prioritizing vaccinations based primarily on age once the most vulnerable populations receive their doses.

Under the vaccine rollout plan, Rod Baker would have normally received the vaccine in early July whereas Ekaterina Baker would have gotten it by September.

Meanwhile, Pfizer Inc. is restricting its own vaccine deliveries to Canada as it reconfigures its manufacturing capacity in Europe. No vaccine doses are due from the pharmaceutical giant this week.

Despite the temporary cut in deliveries, Canada has received more doses of the Pfizer vaccine than Moderna.

Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which must be maintained at temperatures of up to -80C, the Moderna vaccine is easier to handle and transport as it requires to be maintained at just -20C.

All provinces have agreed to shift the per capita proportion of Moderna vaccines to the territories to make distribution easier for northern regions, meaning fewer doses of the easier-to-transport vaccine are destined for B.C.

BIV was not able to reach Rod Baker ahead of publication. Ekaterina Baker did not respond to inquiries from the newspaper.

torton@biv.com
@reporton