Rick Watkins, formerly known as Rick Despatie, was a former math teacher and basketball coach at St. Michael High School in Ottawa who is now guilty of various charges including sexual assault, sexual interference and sexual exploitation.
The victims were female students of his, and due to them being 16 at the time of the offense, information regarding their identities remains anonymous.
With four counts each of sexual assault and sexual interference, Watkins was found guilty according to allegations made by four female students. He was also found guilty on two charges of criminal harassment as his actions made his victims so uncomfortable that they would skip class. The victims provided similar evidence in describing Watkins’ manner of approaching female students who required extra help in class.
CBC reports “He would then repeatedly touch their shoulders and legs in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. Sometimes the touching happened in class and sometimes during extra help sessions, court heard”. One allegation stood out due to being extreme compared to other claims, Ann Alder, an Ontario Court Justice judge, believes that the testimony could have been influenced by outside influences before coming forward.
Although, the account was credible in warranting a guilty verdict on certain counts.
Watkins was found guilty of 11 total charges and will be registered as a sex offender. The conditions set were that he could not communicate with the victims or be within 250 metres of their residence for 10 years. He is also forbidden from possessing weapons and obtaining employment or volunteer positions that involve anyone under 16 years of age.
Watkins testified in his defense which Alder found “argumentative, evasive and condescending”. Two victim impact statements, submitted by two of the victims, found that Watkins’ actions have caused depression, anxiety, a loss of self-esteem and the inability to connect with people.
Alder noted that this was the high school teacher’s first offense and that he has a significant support system available to him. Various letters were submitted to the court in which praise was given to Watkins’ contributions to the community through teaching and coaching.
The Ottawa Catholic School Board released a statement during the time of Watkins’ conviction that they have worked with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to provide additional training to all staff members.
In 2021, the Board confirmed that Watkins’ was no longer employed, in 2022 the Board implemented a new policy regarding the prevention and reporting of child sexual abuse.
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