Last week, Cameron Gardiner (“Gardiner”), 59 years old, learned over Zoom that the two counts of manslaughter were withdrawn against him following the death of two individuals during a home invasion in 2019 in Collingwood, Ontario.
THE HOME INVASION
During the early morning hours of January 22, 2019, while Gardiner and his girlfriend were watching a movie in their townhouse and his 8 year old daughter was asleep, his front door was kicked in and three masked men entered his home. One was wearing a balaclava, one was wearing a clown mask and the third individual had a scarf pulled up to his eyes. One of the individuals had a sawed-off shotgun.
The men who entered his home used zip-ties to tie up both Gardiner, his girlfriend and their dog.
The home had surveillance cameras, which were linked to an app on Gardiner’s son’s phone. His son, who was 19 at the time of the events, lived outside of the home, but visited regularly and sold marijuana from a bedroom on the third floor of the townhouse.
Gardiner’s son became aware of the events taking place and arrived just as his father slipped out of the zip ties. As Gardiner’s son struggled with one of the trespassers, the shotgun was dropped. Gardiner managed to grab the shotgun and another trespasser tried to wrestle it away from him. The gun went off and a bullet hit the trespasser whom the son was fighting with.
Gardiner continued to fight with the intruder with the clown mask over the gun when it fired and hit the masked man, who staggered out of the townhouse.
Dean Copkov, 52 years of age, and Donovan Bass, 42 years of age, were both shot in the chest and were found dead in Gardiner’s backyard. The third intruder jumped out of a second-storey window and managed to escape. Gardiner’s son also left the scene with a safe and a bag before police arrived on scene.
THE CHARGES AGAINST GARDINER
Gardiner was surprised to be taken into custody by an Ontario Provincial Police officer. He was originally charged with second-degree murder, but following a preliminary inquiry the judge decided that the evidence warranted manslaughter charges instead.
A preliminary inquiry is a proceeding held to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for an accused to stand trial. The legal test is whether a reasonable jury could return a verdict of guilty on the evidence presented. Preliminary inquiries only occur for those cases of a serious nature (indictable offences) that is punishable by 14 years or more of imprisonment.
Last week, Crown prosecutor Bhavna Bhangu withdrew all charges against Gardiner during a video court hearing stating that following an exhaustive review of the evidence there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.
With respect to the withdrawal of the charges against Gardiner, the Ministry of the Attorney General stated:
The Crown has a duty to assess the strength of a case … and after careful consideration, the Crown determined that a withdrawal of these charges was appropriate.
Gardiner’s legal team maintained that charges should not have been placed again their client as this was not his gun and the weapon only discharged during struggles with the intruders over the weapon.
Gardiner’s lawyer Robb MacDonald stated:
I think it’s an indication that at the end of the day, the Crown attorney, the Crown attorney’s office, finally sees this case for what it is. And it was a man defending himself and his house and his loved ones. …
It may have a chilling effect on people. You don’t want people to think when someone is facing a home invasion and a gun’s at their head and they have to think, ‘Well, if I do this, am I going to spend a few months in jail? Am I going to be punished criminally? …
It’s a dynamic situation. You have someone who’s in shock, whose adrenaline is pumping. And so, essentially, you have someone who did the right thing. He was trying to protect his family.
Gardiner spent six months in jail awaiting bail. Although he is thankful that the charges have been dropped against him, he understandably remains disturbed by the events that have taken place. He stated:
I’m always worried about the door, always looking at the door or seeing [if] someone else is going to kick in. But it’s just something you don’t forget. … I got to try and forgive myself and move on with my life.
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