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HomeBusinessHe put people’s lives at risk with dozens of phoney calls that unleashed coronavirus chaos at a seniors care home: prosecutor

He put people’s lives at risk with dozens of phoney calls that unleashed coronavirus chaos at a seniors care home: prosecutor

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Bob Mackin

The 28-year-old North Vancouver man guilty of one count of conveying a false message with intent to alarm a seniors’ care home actually made 63 malicious crank calls to four managers, six nurses and two administrators early in the pandemic.

Lynn Valley Care Centre (Mackin)

Crown prosecutor Lara Sarbit told a Provincial Court sentencing hearing on Jan. 16 that Taymour Aghtai was motivated by “his own entertainment” March 7-8, 2020, after public health officials declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Lynn Valley Care Centre. Aghtai pleaded guilty in December 2021 for pretending to be a B.C. Centre for Disease Control employee who ordered the facility to lock down and send staff home. Sarbit said Aghtai even falsely told at least one employee that she had contracted the virus. 

Sarbit said that staff were already afraid to work because of the outbreak and uneasy about the mixed messages they received during the night Aghtai spread disinformation. Some areas of the facility missed more than 80% of staff on the morning of March 8, 2020. Night shift staff worked overtime, managers less familiar with residents reported to work and some family members even stepped in to assist their relatives. 

One of the elderly residents became the first-known victim of the disease in Canada later on March 8, 2020.

“[Aghtai] put people’s lives at risk,” Sarbit said. “I certainly cannot say that the male who passed away that evening wouldn’t have passed away but for Mr. Aghtai’s actions. It may well have been that he passed away regardless, but, certainly Mr. Aghtai’s actions would have impacted on the amount of care and attention he was able to receive in his final hours.”

The calls were reported to the RCMP on March 9, 2020. 

Three months later, by the time the outbreak was declared over, 76 residents and staff had caught the virus and 20 residents had died. 

North Vancouver Provincial Court (B.C. Courthouse Libraries)

Aghtai also pleaded guilty to public mischief and conveying a false message with intent to alarm after a swatting incident that targeted the Fields store in Parksville on Nov. 15, 2019. Sarbit told court that Aghtai called the Oceanside RCMP detachment, pretending to be a store employee hiding in a store bathroom, claiming that a black man wearing body armour was randomly shooting people in the store. 

Ten police officers rushed to the store on high alert, but found no shooter and no victims. Aghtai also called the store manager at her home the next day, pretending to be a police officer.

“It’s clear from Mr. Aghtai’s history that he knew his false call prompt a large police response.

In doing so, he was placing any black males who may have been in the vicinity at risk of harm,” she said. “His choice to impersonate a police officer when calling the manager the next day on your private number of causes for loss of fear and sorry a sense of fear and a loss of trust.”

The mobile phone that Aghtai used for both crimes was in his name, but paid for by his mother. 

Sarbit said Aghtai comes from a family with significant wealth, but his employment history is limited —he has worked as a computer technician for his father’s construction company and as a security guard in a brothel.

“He would have what I would describe as an entitled upbringing, where his parents continue to support him financially.”

Sarbit said that Aghtai had a criminal history dating back to 2008 for making hoax phone calls that falsely alleged heinous crimes or impersonated police officers. Sometimes he made calls to seek revenge against enemies, other times to coax recipients to inadvertently cause damage. He also has a record of assault, robbery, break and enter, confinement and weapons offences, and violating court orders. Also in 2020, he stole personal protective equipment from a seniors care home and escaped lawful custody at Richmond Hospital where he assaulted two corrections officers by threatening them with a contaminated syringe. 

Sarbit said a 2014 psychological assessment concluded that Aghtai was a narcissistic, anti-social alcohol abuser with psychopathic tendencies. 

Sarbit recommended a sentence of two years less a day plus three years probation. Aghtai’s defence lawyer, Josh Oppal, asked for a 16-to 18-month sentence. 

A judge reserved decision. Since Aghtai has remained in custody since September 2020, and is eligible for a time-served credit, he is unlikely to serve more time for the Parksville and North Vancouver crimes. 

Oppal said his client should receive a shorter sentence because his guilty plea cancelled the trial and that his time behind bars happened during the pandemic when there were limited visitation opportunities and frequent lockdowns. 

“Clearly serious offences, clearly a related record, it’s not denied these are offences that had some impact,” Oppal said. 

When Aghtai addressed the court Jan. 16, he expressed remorse for the crimes and apologized to everyone at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, the Fields store and his family. 

“I want to apologize to the families of the people at the Lynn Valley Care at the time, I didn’t think it would have as much of an impact as it did, I was really looking at it as tunnel vision I was under the influence,” he said.

Aghtai vowed not to repeat the behaviour and said his goal is to become a law-abiding, respectful member of society.

“I have to think of the words to describe it, but I find it disgusting and sad that I’ve wasted so much. It’s my actions that have resulted in loss of so much time,” he said.

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