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Veteran Ontario stuntman Dean Copkov killed in double slaying on eve of sentencing for drug offences

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 2019-01-28 Peter Edwards - Staff Reporter,Daniel Renaud - La Presse
a couple of people that are standing in the snow: Police investigate the deaths of two people in Collingwood, Ont., on Tuesday. © Provided by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited Police investigate the deaths of two people in Collingwood, Ont., on Tuesday.

MONTREAL—Ontario-based stuntman Dean Ilia Copkov, 52, has been identified as one of two men killed in a double slaying in Collingwood, Ont., last week, shortly before he was due to be sentenced in Montreal on drug offences.

“We have just been notified by a close friend. Mr. Copkov was reportedly murdered or died yesterday. We are currently investigating,” lawyer Catherine Ranalli told the judge at a Montreal Superior Court on Wednesday.

Copkov and Donovan Bass, 42, both of Wasaga Beach, Ont., were killed following an early-Tuesday altercation in a residential area of Collingwood, Ont., the Ontario Provincial police said in a news release.

Police last week charged Cameron Gardiner, 57, with two counts of second-degree murder.

Police said they are searching for a third person who fled the scene after the 1:30 a.m. altercation.

Copkov was a veteran stuntman who worked on big-budget movies like Cinderella Man, The Incredible Hulk, Pacific Rim and the 2014 remake of RoboCop.

He was convicted last fall in Montreal on two charges of conspiring to import hashish into Canada and was awaiting sentencing.

He was acquitted of conspiring to import cocaine.

Ranalli told the Star she is still trying to verify her client’s death in Collingwood.

Also named in that indictment was Raynald Desjardins, who was later convicted of murder conspiracy in the death of New York mob boss Sal Montagna.

Copkov was born in Toronto and ran a company called Stunts for Hire out of his home in Wasaga Beach, about 150 kilometres north of Toronto.

Copkov, a father of two, was also a martial artist who trained actor Russell Crowe for fight scenes in the movie Cinderella Man, which was based on the life of Depression-era boxer James J. Braddock.

Desjardins, the one-time right-hand man of former Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto, eventually became involved in a murderous power struggle with the Rizzuto organization.

Desjardins pleaded guilty in 2015 to taking part in the plot to murder Sal Montagana, a New York City mob boss who relocated in Quebec. Montagna was murdered on Nov. 24, 2011, in Île Vaudry, a small island just east of Montreal.

The drug smuggling case involving Copkov and Desjardins and others was dubbed Project Célibataire by police. It involved a conspiracy between January 2011 and June 2012 to smuggle cocaine and hashish into Canada.

Some of the evidence in Project Célibataire included secret police videos of Copkov meeting with other men in Toronto near the intersection of Queen St. and Coxwell Ave. on Feb. 10, 2012.

Those charges listed cities in Canada, France, the Netherlands and Pakistan as meeting spots for the conspiracy.

No drugs actually entered Canada in the Project Célibataire case.

“This was a criminal organization conspiring to import drugs for trafficking from Pakistan and Peru and we stopped them before they actually brought the drugs here, either to Montreal or Halifax,” RCMP Const. Luc Thibault said at the time of the arrests.

Copkov made headlines in 1993 when he was one of four men who escaped from a minimum-security prison, where he was serving time for shooting a man in the leg on the Danforth.

He and the others simply walked away from the minimum-security Frontenac institution, just west of Kingston. The men were last seen during a 7 p.m. roll call on New Year’s Eve.

Copkov eventually turned himself in to police, arriving in a stretch limousine.

He had been serving four years for aggravated assault, use of a firearm and assault.

Copkov’s associates included Johnny Raposo, a West End mobster who was murdered on a café patio of College St. W. in June 2012.

Copkov told court in 1991 that he shot the man in the leg in a tavern on the Danforth during what he called a jealous outburst over a woman.

“I’m sorry for what I did,” Copkov told the judge at the time. “I had no intention of shooting the guy. It scared me as well” when the gun discharged.

“What I did was over jealousy,” he said. “I know that’s a weakness I’m going to have to deal with.”

Gardiner is next scheduled to appear in court in Collingwood on Tuesday.

Peter Edwards is a Toronto-based reporter primarily covering crime. Reach him by email at pedwards@thestar.ca

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