Vancouver police say they have issued more than $17,000 in fines and arrested a 42-year-old man at a condo penthouse allegedly operating a “makeshift nightclub” in violation of COVID-19 public health orders.
Court records show Mohammad Movassaghi has been charged with two counts of failure to comply with an order of a health officer.
Global News cameras captured a heavy police presence and several people being escorted in handcuffs from 777 Richards St. early Sunday morning.
Police say when they attended the property Sunday, the penthouse was “packed with people and appeared to be running as a nightclub or show lounge.”
“Our officers found 78 people inside the three-level apartment, and none of them were wearing masks,” Sgt. Steve Addison said in a media release.
“There were menus, tables, point-of-sale terminals and cash tills.”
Police issued $230 fines to 77 people for attending a non-compliant event, while the host was arrested under the public health act and taken to jail.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said he was pleased to see enforcement against “idiots who think they can flout the rules and the laws.”
“The fines levied by the police may just be the start of the problems they are facing,” he said.
“There could potentially be charges under the criminal code, for example, they may (face) additional fines (for violating) health orders, where the penalties can run up to $10,000 and one year in jail.”
Farnworth said the venue operators could also face penalties for operating a venue without a liquor licence.
In an email, a spokesperson for the City of Vancouver said staff were also assessing the situation for potential liquor and business licence infractions, as well as violations of the fire code.
Police issued $2,500 in fines that night but did not actually access the unit, citing the need for a warrant.
Police said the doorman at the event was “defiant.” Investigators said they had previously had four complaints about the property in January alone.
Investigators returned early Sunday morning with a warrant, after two more large parties were allegedly staged at the penthouse.
Penthouse owner Movassaghi has previously denied he was running an illegal nightclub, and filed a complaint against the VPD last week.
On Sunday, his lawyer Bobby Movassaghi, said he would not comment until they receive more information from prosecutors.
“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,” he said.
Addison said police would be seeking strict bail conditions for the host to prevent a repeat of the parties.
“We’re not messing around, we take this seriously,” he said.
“This is an individual who allegedly flouted the public health order. It’s a very serious incident, series of incidents, that put people in danger — not just the partygoers, the neighbours and the community, as well as the police who attended.”