Could death from COVID-19 lead to manslaughter charge?

LThis week, Provincial Court Judge Ellen Gordon reprimanded Mohammad Movassagi, sentencing him to one day in prison, a $ 5,000 fine and 18 months probation. He previously pleaded guilty to disobeying a court order, disobeying an order from a health worker, and illegally purchasing grain alcohol.

The court heard that he had hosted a party for 78 people in an apartment of about 165 square meters, which the police described as an impromptu nightclub.

Judge Gordon called the event “a crime, not a party,” adding that the event was attended by people “stupid enough” to endanger their own health and that of their grandmothers.

“If someone who was at your party got infected and died, as far as I understand, you would be guilty of manslaughter,” she said. “If someone who was at your party contracted the virus and passed it on to their grandmother, as far as I understand, you would be guilty of manslaughter.”

Mr. Movassagi apologized to the judge and the public for his “grave error in judgment.”

In the months that followed, he said he strictly followed public health measures, practiced distancing, and wore a mask.

“I learned a hard lesson,” he said.

Professor Lisa Dufreimont of York University’s Osgood Hall School of Law explained that manslaughter charges stem from an unlawful act resulting in death and actions that could cause foreseeable bodily harm.

“And if it actually leads to the death of someone, as the judge said, it could amount to manslaughter,” Professor Dufraimont said in an interview on Thursday.

“The judge is right.”

Speaking generally about the law, Dufraimont said offenses that could lead to manslaughter could follow if a person flagrantly violates provincial health regulations.

“When you commit a dangerous act, it is also an offense under the law, and if it resulted in the death of someone, it could be manslaughter,” she explained.

However, Isabelle Grant, Peter A. Allard Law Professor at the University of British Columbia, has called for caution on the matter.

“I think it is technically possible that the Corona could acquit the manslaughter charge, but I think that is very unlikely,” said Professor Grant.

“I’m not sure if this will help us get far.”

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

“So it will be very difficult for the crown to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that this person contracted COVID in this room,” she added.

Ms Grant noted that using criminal law may not be the best tool for managing a public health emergency.

“We have pretty strong public health legislation and we have tools to use before we think about jailing for transmission of the disease.”

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