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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

Williams Lake RCMP are asking the public for assistance locating Marion Louise Billy. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake RCMP seek woman wanted for theft, weapon possession

RCMP released the information Thursday, May 6

Audrey McKinnon was officially named the NDP nominee for the federal riding of Cariboo-Prince George. (Twitter)
Audrey McKinnon confirmed as Cariboo Prince-George federal NDP nominee

The nomination comes during speculation the federal government

Gibraltar Mine general manager and community sports coach Ben Pierce moved to Williams Lake in 2008 for a career, and has fallen in love with the area while raising his family in the Cariboo. (Photo submitted)
OUR HOMETOWN: Mine manager on solid ground

Juggling academics, sports and a family was a challenge, but Pierce said he and Liselle made it work

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Most Read