With criminal charges behind him, Cameron Gardiner said he’s happy to be free and alive.
After a home invasion in which two intruders died by gunshot on Jan. 22, 2019 in Collingwood, police charged him with second-degree murder. A judge later reduced the charges to manslaughter and the Crown withdrew those charges Tuesday.
“It’s good to be free. I’m happy to be alive. It’s overwhelming, ’cause I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life in jail,” he said in an interview Thursday.
Gardiner, 59, came to Owen Sound Thursday to buy a cellphone because nobody knows him here, he said. Free of bail restrictions, he took a long walk for the first time — and got lost for a while — ending up by the harbour after leaving Walmart, a few kilometres away.
He said he was thinking about his family and that people tell him “I did what I had to do and it’s not wrong. I’m just a stay-home dad who protected his family.”
Gardiner shook off zip ties that bound him as his son barged into the Collingwood townhome the night of the home invasion. Gardiner said he fought against the masked men in self-defence.
“I broke free and struggled for the weapon and two of them died and the third guy ended up jumping out the second-storey window and running away.”
But when he talked with police he said “I was totally, totally lost, like in shock that on the evidence of what I’d just said that I got charged for that. I could not believe it.”
He’s been out on bail since July 2019. He continues to relive the ordeal, and he’s broke.
“I have mental problems because of this now. It hasn’t gone away. I haven’t been able to get any help because all my focus has been on this. And my restrictions are limited at the time.”
He needs an apartment and a job to get on with life, while always looking over his shoulder for the dead men’s friends, he said. He wouldn’t say exactly where he’s living, other than that it’s with a friend in the country somewhere.
“Right now I’m still trying to get it together that I’m actually free. And it’s an emotional thing. All of a sudden I’ll be watching TV and someone will kick a door in. It’s almost like PTSD. Emotionally I can’t even watch that stuff anymore.”
While out on bail, he’s noticed people seemed uncomfortable around him because he was charged with murder. A bank teller took a step back when he showed her his bail papers for identification. People have crossed the street to avoid him, he said.
“It’s embarrassing, it’s really embarrassing. And I feel worse than COVID, you know, isolated. A lot of my friends don’t talk to me. Family, the first time I’ve seen my daughter the other day in four years.”
He said his bail restrictions prohibited him from communicating with many people. “I had no support. I was on my own and scared shitless.”
He said all his possessions at the townhouse were thrown away because he couldn’t arrange to get them out while in jail. He lost irreplaceable personal possessions and basic necessities such as his false teeth, which he can’t afford to replace.
There’s a GoFundMe page set up for Gardiner which was $2,445 towards its $15,000 fundraising goal late Thursday afternoon.