Appearing on Zoom from inside one of his two lawyers’ Toronto homes, Cameron Gardiner listened closely as Madam Justice Michelle Fuerst told the 59-year-old Collingwood man that after re-assessing the case against Gardiner and the reasonable prospect of conviction, both charges on the indictment were being withdrawn at the request of the Crown.
A minute later, the father of two emerged from the house and declared his freedom, wiping away tears and hugging his lawyers.
“I have the greatest lawyers. They worked hard for me and the outcome is, I’m free. I’m relieved. It was a long road,” said Gardiner.
On Jan. 22, 2019, just after midnight, three masked men forced their way into Gardiner’s townhouse where he was watching a movie with his girlfriend, one carrying a sawed-off shotgun.
Gardiner said he and his girlfriend were zip-tied at their ankles and wrists and tied his dog to his leg.
The men took turns guarding Gardiner while the two others were up in his son’s room and ransacked it, looking for drugs and money.
Gardiner’s son was known to sell marijuana from his bedroom on the top floor of the townhouse. Gardiner said it was only later he realized they were after his son’s drugs and cash and had not touched his stuff.
His son, who had a camera monitoring his bedroom, was notified on his cellphone that someone was in his room and came home to find out what was going on.
Read more: Police investigating 2 deaths in Collingwood
Gardiner said he managed to get ahold of the shotgun.
“It was a struggle, ” he said, explaining, “Two of them died, the third guy jumped out a second floor window.”
When police arrived, “I was shocked. I thought it was about them breaking into my house, not me being accused of shooting them. I was terrified. Next thing you know, I’m being arrested.”
Forty-two-year-old Donovan Bass and 52-year-old Dean Copkov, both of Wasaga Beach, were identified as the two men killed.
Last December, after a preliminary inquiry, the two counts of second-degree murder were reduced to two counts of manslaughter and on Tuesday, the charges were completely withdrawn.
Fuerst told the court, “The two men who lost their lives were both sons and fathers themselves. Their tragic deaths are devastating to those who loved them. Nevertheless, there is no reasonable prospect for conviction. Both charges are withdrawn at the request of the Crown.”
Criminal defence lawyer Elliott Willschick said he always believed in his client.
“I told him at the start when he lost a little bit of faith after he got put in jail, I said, ‘Cam, you can never doubt your actions on that night.’ And he’s the one who led us through this, towards getting his charges withdrawn,” Willschick said.
Co-counsel Robb MacDonald said that from the start, it was clear Gardiner was defending himself and was in a situation of great peril.
“He had a choice when his son arrived to either close his eyes and hope for the best or to stand up and defend himself and his family … It took a great deal of courage,” said MacDonald.
Gardiner, who can’t forget the memories of having a shotgun in his face and being struck in the head with the gun, said it was a terrifying night.
“I hope no one else goes through this. Not a pleasant thing for two people to die. I certainly didn’t want it to be me. They were going to kill my son and I couldn’t let a child die, especially my own,” he said.
Gardiner, who spent six months in jail awaiting bail, said he’s telling his story so that he can start living life again in the town of Collingwood where everyone had already made up their mind about what happened that night.
“Don’t believe the other stories,” he explained, “It wasn’t a pleasant experience at all. I’m glad for the outcome: to be free finally. For anyone who thought different, here’s the real story.”