Operator of 'makeshift nightclub' in Vancouver arrested, $17K in COVID-19 fines issued
VANCOUVER -- British Columbia's minister of public safety and solicitor general is weighing in after Vancouver police issued more than $17,000 in fines and arrested a 42-year-old man at a "makeshift nightclub" in a downtown penthouse early Sunday morning.
In an interview with CTV News Vancouver, Mike Farnworth called the behaviour of the party organizer "extremely disappointing."
“It’s outrageous that this individual felt they could flaunt the rules and you know hold an illegal rave and there’d be no consequences," Farnworth said. "Like most British Columbians, I’m extremely pleased that the Vancouver police went in, and busted it up and levied some pretty significant fines.”
While police have not publicly named the man, CTV News has learned that two counts of failing to comply with the order of a health officer have been laid against Mohammad Movassaghi.
The Vancouver resident has been released from custody and is due in court on Feb. 22.
A statement from his lawyer and brother, Bobby Movassaghi, says in part, "He simply asks that you keep in mind that at this point in time these are unproven allegations, and like anyone else charged with an offence in Canada, he enjoys the presumption of innocence."
In addition to arresting the man who lives in the penthouse on Richards Street, the Vancouver Police Department fined 77 people $230 each for violating British Columbia's COVID-19 rules prohibiting private gatherings, according to a news release.
The arrest and fines were the culmination of an investigation that began a week ago, when a witness called police to report a large party inside a penthouse apartment near the intersection of Richards and Georgia streets.
At the time, police said, officers handed out "numerous fines" to a man allegedly working as a doorman, but the party host "refused to open the door and was defiant with police."
Early Sunday morning, officers returned to the apartment with a search warrant police said, adding that two additional large parties were held this weekend in the 1,100-square-foot apartment.
“Our officers found 78 people inside the three-level apartment, and none of them were wearing masks,” said VPD spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison in the news release. “There were menus, tables, point-of-sale terminals, and cash tills.”
Residents of the building where the parties have been happening tell CTV News they've seen large crowds waiting to get inside many times in recent weeks.
"I'm shocked," said a resident named Graham, who declined to provide his last name. "They've obviously been too light on him, but they need to do something a bit more drastic now."
Farnworth said something a bit more drastic is a distinct possibility in this situation.
"The individuals behind it could face additional penalties depending on the nature of the evidence and the offences that the police are able to prove,” the solicitor general said. "They could easily be up to $10,000 and a year in jail.”
Indoor social gatherings of any size are currently banned under B.C. public health orders, though people who live alone are allowed to host two people with whom they regularly socialize.
Addison said Sunday's arrest and fines should be "a lesson to anyone who thinks the rules don't apply to them."
“If you are caught hosting or attending a party during the pandemic, and continue to break the rules, you could face stiff fines or wind up in jail," he said.