A senior public servant at the Public Health Agency of Canada accepted an all-expenses-paid holiday to Jamaica courtesy of Air Canada Vacations in November, even as her agency has been advising Canadians since March to avoid non-essential travel to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Dominique Baker, the acting manager at PHAC’s Office of Border and Travel Health, flew with a friend to the upscale, all-inclusive Royalton Blue Waters resort in Montego Bay in mid-November.
Ms. Baker, who bills herself as a beauty, fashion and travel influencer on her off-work hours, posted a video a few hours after she arrived in Jamaica, calling the hotel suite with its own infinity pool “mind-blowing – whoa.”
“One of our two butlers is bringing us our pina coladas right now. No, we are not kidding – we have two butlers,” she says in the video. “Thank you, Air Canada Vacations. We are beside ourselves.”
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PHAC said Ms. Baker’s husband, Ryan, worked on short term assignment from Aug. 31 to Nov. 30 for Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam as a media adviser. He returned to his job as the director of strategic communications at the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Previously, he served as director of infectious disease, risk and emergency communications at Health Canada.
Ms. Baker did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment.
Ms. Baker released a video statement Thursday on Instagram in which she apologized for travelling to Jamaica.
“While there were comprehensive precautions in place to keep people safe, the timing just wasn’t great and I shouldn’t have gone,” she said. “I acknowledge this and I urge anyone thinking of getting away this year to wait until this pandemic is over. Follow the public health advice and stay at home now.”
She did not explain why she thought it was acceptable for a public servant to take a free Air Canada holiday.
PHAC president Iain Stewart said the Jamaica junket did not involve government business but added that it was unacceptable for Ms. Baker to ignore the advisory on non-essential travel.
“The Agency’s leadership was alerted to the employee’s whereabouts in November, after photos of her abroad were posted on social media channels for a campaign promoting international vacations,” he said in a statement. “When the situation was brought to PHAC’s attention, the matter was acted upon immediately and a review was initiated. We will not comment further to respect the employee’s privacy.”
Mr. Stewart added that PHAC employees must adhere to the government’s Values and Ethics Code, which “requires them to declare any activity which could give rise to a real, potential or apparent conflict of interest.”
In a Nov. 24 blog on her site, Style Domination, Ms. Baker gushed about the trip and posted pictures of herself on the beach and at poolside, horseback riding and eating at fancy restaurants. Both the video and the blog post have since been removed from the site.
“Our trip was booked with Air Canada Vacations, which included our flights aboard Air Canada Rouge, our stay at the lovely Royalton Blue Waters, a private transfer to and from the hotel in Jamaica, and a free checked bag for each of us,” she wrote.
She explained that people have been curious about whether she needed to quarantine upon arrival in Jamaica or whether she was required to take a COVID-19 test before arrival, but she explained that the Jamaican Travel Authority does not require Canadian residents to provide a negative test result for entry to the country.
“We felt very safe. There is a low Covid rate in Jamaica as well,” she wrote.
She lauded Air Canada for making it safe to travel outside Canada and praised the airline for keeping “every inch of the plane” clean and sanitized.
“We were heartened to see the flight attendants wearing all sorts of personal protective equipment (PPE): from gloves and masks – to full-on head-to-toe suits that resemble light HAZMAT suits,” she wrote.
“As part of Air Canada Vacations Commitment to Safer Travel, our car was completely sanitized, and our driver was also wearing the necessary PPE. We were then taken to the Royalton Blue Waters, a luxe all-inclusive resort,” she added.
Air Canada’s manager of corporate communications, Peter Fitzpatrick, said the airline did not provide the paid junket to Ms. Baker because of her government connections but because of her activities as a social-media influencer.
“This individual was engaged on the basis of her influencer profile, the demographic of her followers and because of her established track record as an influencer,” he said. “Her influencer profile did not mention her employment with the government.”
He noted that the Jamaica holiday package involved an “exchange for content, including an emphasis on our onboard CleanCare+ program and health and safety measures at the property she visited.”
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