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Accused pleads guilty in North Vancouver's Lynn Valley Care Centre hoax call

Man accused of tricking staff into believing care home was being sealed as a COVID-19 measure was set to begin five-day trial in North Vancouver provincial court
Lynn Valley care hom workers
Lynn Valley Care Centre staff greet an appreciative public during the 7 p.m. cheer for frontline workers, April 17, 2020.

The man who perpetrated a hoax on the Lynn Valley Care Centre, leaving the seniors home desperately short-staffed amid an outbreak of COVID-19 has pleaded guilty in North Vancouver provincial court.

This story has been amended to add information.

On March 8, 2020 – the same day a Lynn Valley Care Centre resident in his 80s became the first person in Canada to die from coronavirus disease – Taymour Aghtai called the care home, posing as a public health officer. He told staff that no one should be coming or going from the building during the outbreak, which resulted in the next morning’s care aid staff shifts being cancelled.

After an investigation, North Vancouver RCMP arrested Aghtai in July that year. In September 2020, the Crown swore one charge of conveying a false message with intent to alarm against Aghtai.

Aghtai was set to begin a five-day criminal trial in North Vancouver provincial court yesterday, but he instead pleaded guilty to the charge, as well as to one other count of public mischief related to a November 2019 incident in Parksville in which he made a hoax report to police about a shooting in a department store.

Tuesday’s appearance included few details about what happened but, at the time of Aghtai’s arrest, the Lynn Valley Care Centre management published an open letter to the community explaining how the hoax impacted residents and staff in the home at what was already an ominous time.

“Unfortunately, a great deal of harm had already been done to our capacity to provide the high standard of care for which LVCC has come to be known,” the letter stated. “It caused needless fear among residents and their families. It created apprehension among our staff who, just like the majority of Canadians five months ago, knew little about the disease and its dangers, became reluctant to come to work. And it diverted valuable time and resources away from our capacity to work at a time when we faced the greatest challenge in our centre's history. That call kicked us while we were down, really down.”

Aghtai had little to say following his guilty pleas, although he did ask if his court appearance could be covered by a publication ban, which Judge Joanne Challenger confirmed it would not.

Aghtai is due back in court in January, when the Crown and his defence lawyer will set a date to make submissions on what an appropriate sentence should be. He remains in custody related to separate charges filed in Richmond.

Over the course of the outbreak at the centre, 52 elderly residents tested positive for COVID-19, 20 of whom died. There were also 26 confirmed cases among staff.