Manslaughter charges dropped in Collingwood double shooting that left two men dead

·5 min read

A Barrie judge’s decision helped to pave the way to freedom for Cameron Gardiner, says his lawyer, who describes the Collingwood carpenter as a hero, not a villain.

Charges against the 59-year-old man, who was accused of killing two men in his home on Jan. 22, 2019, were dropped on Tuesday.

“It’s a pretty incredible story where, if we were living south of the border, my client would have been celebrated immediately and celebrated as a hero. Instead, he went to jail for six months,” said Toronto criminal defence lawyer Robb MacDonald.

“Here’s a guy who’s sitting at home watching a movie with his spouse, the door gets kicked in and there’s three armed bandits who come in with a shotgun and they tie him up and tie up his spouse with zip ties and begin looting his place," the lawyer explained.

"And then when his son comes home, he realizes there’s a guy on the other side of the door, the same door the son is trying to get into, that is probably going to shoot his son.

"So he has a fit of basically superhuman strength and breaks free of his zip ties, gets the gun off this bandit at the door and ends up shooting him and a second joins the fight. That bandit gets shot as well," MacDonald said. "It took incredible courage to defend his home and loved ones the way he did.”

Dean Copkov, 52, and 42-year-old Donovan Bass, both of Wasaga Beach, were killed in the incident.

“We’ve conducted our investigation. The final decision rests on the courts to decide on the outcome of the case,” said OPP media relations co-ordinator Acting Sgt. Iryna Nebogatova when asked about the charges. “It’s up to the courts to make the final decision on this.”

Following the preliminary hearing last November, Justice A. M. Nichols found that the Crown did not present evidence showing the intent required for second-degree murder, for which Gardiner had been charged, and instead committed him to trial on manslaughter.

That was a gutsy move, MacDonald said, that ultimately led the Crown to withdraw the charges, concluding there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.

“This is a difficult case,” the judge told the court at the time. “In determining the reasonableness of Mr. Gardiner’s actions, many factors must be assessed in a large body of evidence. Again, I find this would involve a more extensive weighing than is permitted at this stage.”

Gardiner and his girlfriend were living in a townhouse complex on Matthew Way when three masked intruders burst into their home through a back door early that January morning, one with a sawed-off shotgun, according to court documents.

MacDonald said the intruders were under the belief that his son, who didn’t live at the house, sold cannabis and were in search of marijuana and money in the son’s room, which was locked and outfitted with cameras.

“These home invaders knew what they were looking for when they got there and they were going straight to his son’s room,” he said, adding Gardiner’s girlfriend testified that this was the most terrifying event of her life which continues to prevent her from sleeping.

In her summary of the evidence, Justice Nichols said the couple was bound and made to sit on the couch. Gardiner’s dog was tied to him. Video footage shown at the preliminary hearing captured two of the men rooting through the boy’s room upstairs. A third man wearing a balaclava eventually escaped through an upstairs window.

The son had a live surveillance feed from the room on his phone capturing the activity and rushed home, surprising the intruders, and a struggle ensued.

According to a transcript of Nichols’ decision, Gardiner broke free of the loose ties, grabbed the gun and then struggled with the second intruder.

“The gun discharged and struck the intruder who was outside the door. They continued to wrestle with the gun and it was racked in the process. During this struggle the second intruder was shot and then staggered outside,” says the judge’s summation.

“In considering self-defence or accident, I find that, particularly in the context of this case, to consider these possible defences would involve a more extensive weighing of the evidence than I am permitted to do,” the judge concluded. “Put simply, this was a brutal home invasion where the occupants were put in serious peril.”

MacDonald said the low threshold required at a preliminary hearing might have led another judge to order his client to stand trial on the second-degree murder charges. He said had that happened, the case would have likely gone all the way to trial.

“Justice Nichols listened to our arguments very carefully, made a very gutsy decision, and the correct legal decision and reduced it down to manslaughter. And that began the unravelling of the Crown’s case,” said the defence lawyer. “What became clear at the end of the inquiry was that none of their theories held any water.”

Far from being the villain, MacDonald said Gardiner was the innocent man who was fearful for his life and the lives of his girlfriend and son.

He was remanded in jail for six months after being charged. He was then released on “very tight bail” and made to live with his sureties for several months after that, which MacDonald said was akin to full-time house arrest.

“In that time, he lost a lot of his worldly possessions. ... Finally, after close to a year and a half, we were able to get his bail relaxed so that he could go to work. But really it’s not until yesterday that he’s been in a position where he can start rebuilding his life,” said MacDonald. “He is a very brave man and someone who deserves the best.”

One of the deceased men, Dean Copkov, was a stunt man in movies. His credits listed on Internet Movie Database include The Incredible Hulk, Pacific Rim and RoboCop.

Two days after his death, the Montreal Gazette reported he had been convicted of conspiring to smuggle drugs into Canada and was scheduled to appear in court in Montreal for his sentencing hearing.

Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

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