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Lynn Valley Care Centre hoaxer sentenced to time served

The judge handed down the maximum penalty, noting the 28-year-old’s ‘terrible’ criminal record
The night after Taymour Aghtai convinced much of the staff at Lynn Valley Care Centre not to come to work, a resident died of COVID-19. | North Shore News files

Lynn Valley Care Centre hoaxer Taymour Aghtai has been sentenced to two-years in prison – the maximum allowable penalty for his crimes – a time which has already been served in custody.

Claiming to be a health officer from the BC Centre for Disease Control, Aghtai called the Lynn Valley Care Centre on March 7, 2020, the day after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry declared an outbreak of COVID-19 at the long-term care facility. He told the nurse who answered the phone that the building was on lockdown and to call 911 if anyone tried to enter or leave the building.

Aghtai then persuaded her to give him cellphone numbers of other staff, who he proceeded to call and told them to stay away from the centre. The next day, more than 80 per cent of staff didn’t show up to work in some sections of the facility. Staff who remained were overwhelmed and described the situation as devastating. The following night, a resident’s passing marked the first confirmed death from COVID-19 in Canada.

He was later charged and pleaded guilty to one count of conveying a false message with intent to alarm.

In North Vancouver Provincial Court on Tuesday, Judge Patricia Janzen drew attention to the 28-year-old Aghtai’s history of similar offences and the need to deter future acts, which cause significant distress and other potential harms to their victims.

Aghtai’s defence lawyer, who was no longer representing him at sentencing this week, had previously sought a jail term in the range of 16-18 months because of the harder-than-average conditions his client faced in pre-trial custody during the pandemic.

While Janzen conceded that conditions were more restrictive under COVID-19 protocols, she said that increased restrictions applied to all British Columbians at the time, and that the ones imposed upon Aghtai were for the safety of prison staff and other inmates. The judge said such restrictions wouldn’t be considered as a mitigating factor in sentencing. Nor did Janzen give much weight to the remorse that Aghtai expressed in court, given his list of previous offences, which number as high as 60 when counting those committed as a minor.

In November 2019, Aghtai called police in Parksville and claimed two Black men with shotguns had killed two people and were on the loose in a Fields department store, drawing an armed response from the RCMP. No one was physically hurt but Janzen did note that Aghtai's call would have put any black men in the area in danger. For that, Aghtai was sentenced to jail time to be served concurrently with his North Vancouver sentence.

Also listed as aggravating factors in Aghtai’s sentencing, were the large amount of attention drawn by the Lynn Valley Care Centre hoax related to heightened pandemic fears and damage to the centre’s reputation, Janzen said. She added that his moral blameworthiness was “very high” given previous convictions for similar hoaxes.

Aghtai’s potential for rehabilitation was low, Janzen said, given his “terrible” criminal record.

“The court’s denunciation must be emphatic,” the judge said. “And it must be supported by a period of incarceration to communicate that conveyance of a false message that harms or alarms another person is a serious crime with serious consequences.”

Janzen did, however, note that Aghtai’s guilty plea had spared the victims from having to testify and recount their experiences at trial.

As Aghtai has been incarcerated since September 2020, he will face no more time behind bars for the North Vancouver or Parksville charges. He remains in jail on separate charges in Richmond were he is due to be sentenced for sexual assault with a weapon, assault with a weapon, extortion, unlawful confinement and use of an imitation firearm.

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