Man sentenced for 'dangerous lies' in hoax calls to care home on day it saw Canada's 1st COVID-19 death
Taymour Aghtai, 28, won't serve any more time behind bars for calls to Lynn Valley Care Centre
The man who made dozens of hoax calls to staff at the care home that would later record Canada's first death from COVID-19 has been sentenced for his "elaborate, dangerous and damaging deception," though he won't serve any more time behind bars for the crime.
Taymour Aghtai, 28, stood in provincial court on Tuesday as he was sentenced to two years less a day for his behaviour towards staff at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, B.C., in the earliest days of the pandemic.
"Its senselessness was matched only by its cruelty," said Judge Patricia Janzen, chastising Aghtai about his crime.
"You no longer have the excuse of being an immature, self-absorbed and thoughtless 13-year-old — your age at the time you committed this offence for the first time."
With credit for time served since his arrest in September 2020, Aghtai has already completed his sentence.
Lies had 'devastating effect' on patient care
As the judge read her decision to the court Tuesday, Aghtai sat in the prisoner's box in a red T-shirt, his dark hair cropped short and beard grown out. He sat still as she described how his calls tormented vulnerable residents, anxious staff and their frightened families at the care centre.
"You spread dangerous and disturbing lies in the context of a terrifying new, contagious and untreatable disease," said Janzen. "As a result of your lies, resident care suffered significantly ... all at an already challenging time."
On March 6, 2020, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry declared an outbreak of COVID-19 inside the centre.
The following night, Aghtai started calling. He didn't stop for more than a day.
Then 25, he first called the care centre pretending to be a health officer from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control around 11 p.m.
He told the nurse on the phone that the facility was being locked down and convinced her to give him cellphone numbers for other staff members — including managers, administrators and other nurses.
Aghtai made more than 60 calls over the next two hours, telling more workers the care centre was being shut down because testing had confirmed more cases of COVID-19. In some cases, he told nurses they had tested positive and needed to quarantine.
The next day, more than 80 per cent of centre's staff stayed home from work. The facility has more than 200 beds, with many residents inside needing regular attention and care for complex needs ranging from catheters to adult diapers.
Staff who were already inside the centre pulled double shifts to help while frantic families crowded the parking lot outside.
Later that day, a male resident in his 80s died — Canada's first death from COVID-19.
Another prank call
Last month, Aghtai pleaded guilty to conveying a false message with intent to alarm for his behaviour towards Lynn Valley Care Centre. He also pleaded guilty to a charge of public mischief for "swatting" a department store on Vancouver Island in 2019.
That November, Aghtai called 911 and said an armed Black man wearing body armour was robbing a Fields store in Parksville. He told a dispatcher he was hiding in the bathroom.
Ten police officers responded to what they believed to be an active shooter situation, only to find out the call was fake. Aghtai later called the store manager pretending to be a police officer investigating the case.
"Swatting" is a harassment technique that involves making a fake call to emergency responders to draw a police response against an innocent target.
Reading from an agreed statement of facts on Tuesday, Janzen said Aghtai had a "very privileged" upbringing. He did not have his own job and instead had full financial support from his father, who paid for his housing.
He committed more than 60 criminal offences from age 13 to 26. He's been sentenced five times before for conveying a false message with intent to alarm, as in the care centre case.
"Your criminal record is appalling," Janzen said.
During sentencing submissions, Aghtai told the court it was "time to grow up" and apologized. Janzen said she gave his apology little weight in her sentencing decision.
"Your history of offending suggests your remorse is unlikely to be sincere or based on any genuine insight," she said.
Aghtai remains in custody on other charges.