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Manslaughter charges dropped against man who was zip-tied and held at gunpoint in own home

The Crown has withdrawn manslaughter charges against a 59-year-old man from Collingwood, Ont., who shot and killed two masked men who zip-tied and held him at gunpoint in a chaotic home invasion. “It was terrifying,” Cameron Gardiner said, speaking publicly for the first time since the event. The details of the case had previously been under a publication ban. It was the early-morning hours of Jan. 22, 2019, and Gardiner and his girlfriend were watching a movie in their townhouse in Collingwood, about 150 kilometres north of Toronto. “And next thing I know, the door gets kicked in,” Gardiner said in an interview with CBC News. Three masked men forced their way into his home. One was wearing a clown mask; the other a balaclava; and the third had a scarf pulled up to his eyes. One of the men was armed with a sawed-off shotgun. “My girlfriend tried to run for the stairs, but they tackled her and put her back on the couch,” Gardiner said. “[They] zip-tied us both and zip-tied my dog to my leg with another zip tie.” The men took turns guarding the couple while searching the house. They brought a safe downstairs to the living room, and Gardiner said they began hitting him and demanding he tell them the code, but Gardiner didn’t have it because the safe didn’t belong to him. “You can’t give something you don’t know,” he said. “And my girlfriend was screaming and crying. She was terrified, and so was I.” Surveillance cameras in home Unbeknown to the home invaders, there were surveillance cameras in the house linked to an app on Gardiner’s son’s phone. Gardiner’s son, who was 19 at the time, didn’t live with him, but he was at the home regularly and, according to court documents, was known to sell marijuana from a bedroom on the third floor. When he saw what was happening, he made a beeline from his home to his father’s house. He arrived just as his father managed to slip out of his zip ties. According to court documents, as Gardiner’s son grappled with one of the intruders outside the back door, the shotgun was dropped. His father grabbed it, and another intruder tried to wrestle it away from him. The gun fired, and the intruder who was fighting with the son was hit. The elder Gardiner and the intruder in the clown mask continued to struggle over the gun. It was racked in the struggle, which put another load in the chamber, and according to Gardiner, that’s when it fired and killed the man in the mask. In the court documents, Gardiner says the masked man then staggered out of the house. In the end, two men lay dead in the snow in the backyard, both shot in the chest. They were later identified as Dean Copkov, 52, and Donovan Bass, 42. Copkov was a longtime stuntman whose resumé included RoboCop, the Resident Evil franchise, The Incredible Hulk and the Canadian series Lost Girl. Copkov was about to be sentenced on drug charges in Montreal before he died, according to court records. Dean Copkov, 52, a longtime stuntman, was one of the intruders in Gardiner’s home who was shot and killed. He was about to be sentenced on drug charges in Montreal before he died in 2019, according to court documents. (Courtesy IMDb) Bass was described in his obituary as a “beloved son” and “loving father.” The families of Copkov and Bass did not immediately reply to a request for comment from CBC News. Surprised to be taken into custody During the mayhem, the third intruder leapt out of a second-storey window and escaped. Court records also reveal that Gardiner’s son left the scene with the safe and a bag before police arrived. Gardiner defends his actions and points out that his eight-year-old daughter was also sleeping next door. “I’m assuming that they’re going to kill me,” he said. “What are you supposed to think that they’re just going to … it’s a what? A polite home invasion with a gun? I can’t take no chances with any of that in my life. It’s my kids. I’m not taking chances.” Police investigators are shown outside Gardiner’s home in Collingwood, Ont., in January 2019 after the home invasion during which two of the intruders were fatally shot.(Jason Whyte/CBC) Gardiner said he was surprised when Ontario Provincial Police officers took him into custody. “I told them that the third guy was running. If you hurry, you can catch them. They decided to come to the apartment first,” he said. Shortly after, Gardiner was loaded into a police cruiser. “I really was in shock. Like, I just went through hell,” he said. Crown initially pursued murder charges The Crown originally pursued second-degree murder charges against Gardiner, but in November 2020, after a preliminary inquiry, a judge decided the evidence — which she noted in her decision was largely circumstantial — merited manslaughter charges instead. In her November decision, Ontario Court Justice A.M. Nichols said that while there was some evidence Gardiner had control of the weapon when the shots were fired, no witness saw the shootings take place. She described the evidence as “murky.” On Tuesday afternoon in Barrie, Ont., Crown prosecutor Bhavna Bhangu withdrew all charges against Gardiner during a video court hearing, saying that after a thorough review, the Crown determined there was no reasonable prospect of conviction. Acting Sgt. Martin Hachey of the OPP detachment in Collingwood said he couldn’t comment on why the charges were withdrawn. “I can tell you that, certainly, our jobs as officers is to investigate an occurrence and, of course, lay charges accordingly based on the investigation and the evidence collected,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what took place in this case or what brought about that particular decision, but on our end … that’s the job we [had] to do, and that’s what we did in this case.” In a statement, the Ministry of the Attorney General said, “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. Lawyers worry about ‘chilling effect’ for others Toronto criminal lawyers Robb MacDonald and Elliott Willschick, who represented Gardiner, said they’re pleased the charges were withdrawn. “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,” MacDonald said. Toronto criminal lawyer Robb MacDonald, who was one of Gardiner’s lawyers, says the case involved ‘a man defending himself and his house and his loved ones.'(Andy Hincenbergs/CBC) But Willschick said he worries people may see what his client went through and hesitate to protect themselves in similar situations. “It may have a chilling effect on people,” he said. “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.” WATCH | Ontario man describes when 3 intruders entered his home in 2019: As for Gardiner, he said that while he is relieved the charges were withdrawn, the event left him traumatized. “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,” he said. “I got to try and forgive myself and move on with my life.”

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Ontario hospitals may have to withhold care as COVID-19 fills ICUs

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By Allison Martell and Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Doctors in the Canadian province of Ontario may soon have to decide who can and cannot receive treatment in intensive care as the number of coronavirus infections sets records and patients are packed into hospitals still stretched from a December wave.

Canada‘s most populous province is canceling elective surgeries, admitting adults to a major children’s hospital and preparing field hospitals after the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs jumped 31% to 612 in the week leading up to Sunday, according to data from the Ontario Hospital Association.

The sharp increase in Ontario hospital admissions is also straining supplies of tocilizumab, a drug often given to people seriously ill with COVID-19.

Hospital care is publicly funded in Canada, generally free at the point of care for residents. But new hospital beds have not kept pace with population growth, and shortages of staff and space often emerge during bad flu seasons.

Ontario’s hospitals fared relatively well during the first wave of the pandemic last year, in part because the province quickly canceled elective surgeries.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario told doctors last Thursday that the province was considering “enacting the critical care triage protocol,” something that was not done during earlier waves of the virus. Triage protocols help doctors decide who to treat in a crisis.

“Everybody’s under extreme stress,” said Eddy Fan, an ICU doctor at Toronto’s University Health Network. He said no doctor wants to contemplate a triage protocol but there are only so many staff.

“There’s going to be a breaking point, a point at which we can’t fill those gaps any longer.”

In a statement, the health ministry said Ontario has not activated the protocol. A September draft suggested doctors could withhold life-sustaining care from patients with a less than 20% chance of surviving 12 months. A final version has not been made public.

Ontario’s Science Advisory Table had been forecasting the surge for months, said member and critical care physician Laveena Munshi. During a recent shift she wanted to call the son of a patient only to discover he was in an ICU across the street.

“The horror stories that we’re seeing in the hospital are like ones out of apocalyptic movies,” she said. “They’re not supposed to be the reality we’re seeing one year into a pandemic.”

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In COVID-19 vaccination pivot, Canada targets frontline workers

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By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is shifting its vaccination campaign to target frontline workers, moving away from a largely age-based rollout as the country tries to get a handle on the raging third wave of the pandemic.

Canada‘s approach thus far has left unvaccinated many so-called “essential workers,” like daycare providers, bus drivers and meatpackers, all of whom are among those at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission. Provinces are now trying to adjust their strategy to tackle the surge driven by new variants.

Targeting frontline workers and addressing occupation risk is vital if Canada wants to get its third wave under control, says Simon Fraser University mathematician and epidemiologist Caroline Colijn, who has modelled Canadian immunization strategies and found “the sooner you put essential workers [in the vaccine rollout plan], the better.”

Initially, Canada prioritized long-term care residents and staff for the vaccines, as well as the very elderly, health workers, residents of remote communities and Indigenous people.

Targeting vaccinations by age made sense early on in a pandemic that ravaged Canada‘s long-term care homes, Colijn said. But now, immunizing those at highest risk of transmission brings the greatest benefit.

“If you protect these individuals you also protect someone in their 60s whose only risk is when they go to the store. … The variants are here now. So if we pivot now, but it takes us two months to do it, then we will lose that race.”

Data released on Tuesday from the Institute of Clinical and Evaluative Sciences showed that Toronto’s neighbourhoods with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections had the lowest vaccination rates, underscoring the disparities in vaccination.

‘IT’S A JUGGERNAUT’

On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a plan to have mobile vaccine clinics target COVID-19 “hotspots” and high-risk worksites, although he stopped short of giving people paid time off to get the shot.

Karim Kurji, medical officer of health in York Region north of Toronto, characterizes the shift in vaccination priority from age to transmission risk as moving from defence to offence.

“It’s a juggernaut in terms of the immunization machinery, and turning it around takes a lot of effort,” Kurji said.

Meanwhile, officials in the western province of Alberta say they are offering vaccines to more than 2,000 workers at Cargill’s meatpacking plant in High River, site of one of Canada‘s largest workplace COVID-19 outbreaks. Provincial officials said in a statement they are looking to expand the pilot to other plants.

Quebec will start vaccinating essential workers such as those in education, childcare and public safety in Montreal, where neighbourhoods with the highest vaccination rates have been among those with the lowest recorded infection rates.

The people doing the highest-risk jobs, from an infectious disease perspective, are more likely to be poor, non-white and new Canadians, health experts say. They are less likely to have paid leave to get tested or vaccinated or stay home when sick and are more likely to live in crowded or multi-unit housing. They need to be prioritized for vaccination and their vaccination barriers addressed, experts say.

Naheed Dosani, a Toronto palliative care physician and health justice activist, said making vaccines available to high-risk communities is not enough without addressing barriers to access.

“The face of COVID-19 and who was being impacted changed dramatically. The variants seemed to take hold in communities where essential workers live. … This [pivot] is a step in the right direction and will hopefully save lives.”

 

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)

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Canada finance minister: Pandemic an opportunity to bring in national childcare

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic and its damaging impact on women has underlined the need for a national childcare plan, which would also help the economic recovery, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday.

Since taking up her job in August, Freeland has repeatedly spoken about a “feminist agenda,” and has said childcare will be part of a stimulus package worth up to C$100 billion ($79.6 billion) over three years. She will unveil details in her April 19 budget.

“I really believe COVID-19 has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany … on the importance of early learning and childcare,” Freeland told a online convention of Canada‘s ruling Liberal Party.

The budget is set to be a springboard for an election that Liberal insiders say is likely in the second half of the year.

Canadian governments of various stripes have mused about a national childcare program for decades but never acted, thanks in part to the cost and also the need to negotiate with the 10 provinces, which deliver many social programs.

Freeland said a childcare program would help counter “an incredibly dangerous drop” in female employment since the start of the pandemic.

“It is a surefire way to drive jobs and economic growth … you have higher participation of women in the labor force,” Freeland said. “My hope … is that being able to make that economic argument as well is going be to one of the ways that we get this done.”

Freeland, who is taking part this week in meetings of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations and the International Monetary Fund, said U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had told her they saw early learning and child care as a driver for economic recovery.

($1=1.2560 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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