A Canadian man who describes himself as an “artist” was charged after declaring that he was infected with the pneumonia-like coronavirus while traveling on a WestJet flight.
James Potok was charged by Ontario’s Peel Police with mischief and breach of recognizance, meaning that Potok previously faced criminal charges and was released with certain conditions. Footage of Potok on the WestJet flight, which was traveling from Toronto to Montego Bay, Jamaica, shows him wearing a surgical mask and informing other passengers that he recently traveled to Wuhan, China, where the outbreak started.
WestJet decided to turn the flight carrying 250 passengers around and return to Toronto. The airline told the CBC that its flight attendants acted “out of an abundance of caution,” adding the flight was ultimately diverted due to an “unruly guest.”
“I just came back from Hunan province, the capital of the coronavirus, I’m not feeling too well,” Potok told passengers, according to CityNews. “Thank you.”
Wuhan is actually part of the Hubei province in China, not Hunan. Nearly 25,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported in mainland China, almost 17,000 of which are in the Hubei province. Multiple airlines have stopped flying to China in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. Last week, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global public health emergency.
“I was looking to get a viral video,” Potok later told Global News. “I figured it would invoke some kind of reaction, like ‘this kid’s got some balls’ or ‘this kid’s crazy,’ whatever it is.”
Potok, who has fewer than 1,000 subscribers on YouTube, just over 34,000 followers on Instagram, and 216 fans on SoundCloud, isn’t the first person to try to use a viral stunt to find fame. Performing dangerous stunts also isn’t a new concept; MTV’s Jackass designed a whole series around it.
But whereas one is a form of entertainment designed to make people laugh or gross them out while they sit at home watching TV, these types of stunts unnecessarily disrupt the days of complete strangers. Passengers on the WestJet plane can be heard in videos uploaded to Twitter calling Potok out for the stunt and complaining about their vacations being delayed, all so that he could film a video and maybe go viral. Naturally, he doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m an artist,” Potok said. “Any publicity for myself is good publicity.”
Potok will appear at the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton on Monday, March 9th.