Mohammad Movassaghi, a Vancouver man arrested on allegations he was running a makeshift nightclub inside his penthouse has pleaded guilty to three charges. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Mohammad Movassaghi, a Vancouver man arrested on allegations he was running a makeshift nightclub inside his penthouse has pleaded guilty to three charges. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Death due to COVID-19 parties could lead to manslaughter charges: experts

Prof. Lisa Dufraimont of York University’s Osgoode Hall law school said manslaughter charges stem from an unlawful act that causes death

People who break health rules by holding parties that lead to death from COVID-19 should heed the warning from a British Columbia judge about facing a manslaughter charge, legal experts say.

Prof. Lisa Dufraimont of York University’s Osgoode Hall law school said manslaughter charges stem from an unlawful act that causes death and a foreseeable activity that could cause bodily harm.

“And if in fact it does cause someone’s death, as the judge said, then that could amount to manslaughter,” Dufraimont said in an interview Thursday.

“The judge is right about that.”

Provincial court Judge Ellen Gordon chastised Mohammad Movassaghi this week as she sentenced him to one day in jail, a $5,000 fine and 18 months’ probation. He had previously pleaded guilty to disobeying a court order, failing to comply with a health officer’s order and unlawfully purchasing grain alcohol.

The court heard he held a party for 78 people in a penthouse condominium that was about 165 square metres in size that police described as a makeshift nightclub.

Gordon called the event “a crime, not a party,” adding that it was something attended by people “foolish enough” to put their own and their grandmothers’ health at risk.

“If someone who had been at your party was infected and died, as far as I’m concerned, you’re guilty of manslaughter,” she said. “If someone who had been at your party was infected and passed it on to grandma, as far as I’m concerned, you’re guilty of manslaughter.”

Movassaghi apologized to the judge and to the public for his “grievous error of judgment.”

In the months since, Movassaghi said he has been following the public health orders “to a T,” practising physical distancing and wearing a mask.

“I learned a hard lesson,” he said.

Speaking generally about the law, Dufraimont said the offences that could lead to manslaughter charges could follow if a person flagrantly disregards provincial health orders.

“When you do a dangerous act that’s also a lead offence under the legislation, and if that were to lead to someone’s death, that could be manslaughter,” she explained.

Manslaughter has no minimum sentence but could result in life in prison.

However, Isabel Grant, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Peter A. Allard school of law, urged caution when charging a person with manslaughter.

“I think it’s technically possible that the Crown could substantiate a manslaughter charge but I think it’s highly unlikely,” Grant said.

“I’m just not sure that that really gets us very far.”

Grant said it would also be a “very difficult thing” to prove where a person contracted the virus.

“So, showing beyond a reasonable doubt that that person got COVID in that room is going to be very challenging for the Crown,” she added.

Grant said using the criminal law might not be the best tool with which to regulate a public health emergency.

“We have pretty solid public health legislation, and we have things that could be utilized before we go to thinking about putting people in jail for the transmission of an illness.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Just Posted

Tim Miller is selling his 76-foot steel bridge from his property in Burton, B.C. The bridge originates from the railway in Revelstoke. (Contributed)
For sale: a 100-ton 19th century bridge from Revelstoke

Bridge is now in Burton, B.C. and advertised for $40,000

North Okanagan business Hytec Kohler set up a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Spallumcheen plant Friday, May 14. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
More than half of eligible adults in Interior Health vaccinated

Over 365,000 vaccine doses have been administered throughout the Interior Health region

New Border Bruins owner Dr. Mark Szynkaruk reps team colours with his young sons and wife Tracey. Photo courtesy of the Grand Forks Border Bruins
KIJHL’s Border Bruins sold to Grand Forks doctor

The league announced the sale Friday, May 14

Nest Grocers plans to sell locally produced items, such as from Wildflight Farm, First Light Farm, BA Sausages and meat from Greenslide Farm. (Photo by Sarah Mickel)
The future is here: Online grocery store opens in Revelstoke

Nest Grocers plans to emphasise locally produced foods

Jeff Nicholson retires at the end of the month after 19 years on the board for School District 19 (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)
Revelstoke schools establish award to honour former trustee Jeff Nicholson

Donations are needed to help the award last in perpetuity

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Kelowna Law Courts. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
Former Vernon teacher found guilty of historic sex crimes against minors

Anoop Singh Klair was found guilty of all eight charges against him in a Kelowna courtroom on Friday

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The real estate market is hot in Vernon, and across the Okanagan. (John Dent photo)
North Okanagan home prices, demand continue to build

Single family home volumes up 200 per cent, worth average $647,000

An algal bloom on Wood Lake has residents concerned for the body of water's health. (Wendy Innes-Shaw)
‘Wood Lake looks seriously unwell’: Lake Country residents

Algal bloom appears to be getting worse, and stinky

A wildfire southeast of Vernon has been added to the BC Wildfire dashboard Friday, May 14, 2021. (BC Wildfire Service)
Wildfire sparks southeast of Vernon

The fire appears to be in a remote area east of Aberdeen Lake

Bradley Priestap in an undated photo provided to the media some time in 2012 by the London Police Service.
Serial sex-offender acquitted of duct tape possession in B.C. provincial court

Ontario sex offender on long-term supervision order was found with one of many ‘rape kit’ items

Rich Coleman, who was responsible for the gaming file off and on from 2001 to 2013, was recalled after his initial testimony to the Cullen Commission last month. (Screenshot)
Coleman questioned over $460K transaction at River Rock during B.C. casinos inquiry

The longtime former Langley MLA was asked about 2011 interview on BC Almanac program

Most Read