British Columbia

B.C. man admits making hoax call to care home on the day it recorded Canada's 1st COVID death

In the early hours of the day the Lynn Valley Care Centre recorded Canada's first COVID-19 death, staff received a call that made them fear for the safety of the facility's residents. The man who made that call has now pleaded guilty to perpetrating a hoax.

Taymour Aghtai to be sentenced next month for conveying a false message with intent to alarm

Paramedics in full body protective equipment clean a stretcher after responding to a call at the Lynn Valley Care Centre. A man who made a hoax call to the North Vancouver facility at the outset of a COVID-19 outbreak has pleaded guilty to conveying a false message with intent to alarm. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In the early hours of the very day in March 2020 that the Lynn Valley Care Centre recorded Canada's first COVID-19 death, staff received a call that made them fear for the safety of the facility's residents.

The caller claimed to be a health officer with alarming information about the number of people who had tested positive for the coronavirus overnight and a warning for staff at the North Vancouver, B.C., centre to stay where they were while the entire facility was shut down.

Over the course of the day that followed, staff learned the call was a hoax.

This week, the man who made the fake call pleaded guilty to conveying a false message with intent to alarm.

'Needless fear'

Taymour Aghtai's plea in North Vancouver provincial court came at the outset of what was supposed to be a trial, as fears of a new coronavirus variant recalled the alarm set off by that first death nearly two years ago.

The hoax came to light in July 2020, when the Lynn Valley Care Centre put out an open letter describing the incident and detailing the harm inflicted by Aghtai's prank on March 8, 2020.

Neighbours put up signs in support of residents and staff at Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver after the facility recorded Canada's first COVID-19 death. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"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," the letter read.

"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 was charged in September 2020 after an investigation by North Vancouver RCMP.

After the open letter was released, a care centre administrator spoke about the incident with the Canadian Press.

"The caller pretended to be a health officer and they exaggerated the number of people who have tested positive in the centre and stated that because of that, they had to shut the centre down overnight,'' Noori Shahkar said at the time.

The caller also said residents and staff on site shouldn't leave and the next shift of staff members shouldn't come in, he said.

As a result, many staff members called home to tell their families they shouldn't expect them back, and staff members on the morning shift didn't come in. It meant some workers were on site for up to 16 hours before they got relief, he said.

According to the North Vancouver provincial court registry, Aghtai's next appearance is on Jan. 6, 2022, to fix a date for sentencing. The offence can draw a sentence of up to two years.

On March 8, the day of the hoax, a resident at the Lynn Valley Care Centre was confirmed as the first person in Canada to die from COVID-19

In total, 52 centre residents were infected by the coronavirus during the outbreak.

By the time the outbreak was declared over on May 7, 2020, 20 residents had died.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.

now