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Ex-teacher Rick Watkins sentenced to 2 years in prison

Rick Watkins, also known by his former surname Despatie, leaves the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in May 2021. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
Rick Watkins, also known by his former surname Despatie, leaves the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in May 2021. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

A former math teacher and basketball coach at St. Matthew High School in Ottawa will serve two years in a federal penitentiary plus two years probation after being found guilty of several charges involving female victims who were his students at the time.

Rick Watkins, better known as Rick Despatie, will also be registered as a sex offender and must provide a DNA sample. His conditions forbid him from ever communicating with his victims, or to be within 250 metres of their residence for 10 years.

He's also forbidden from possessing weapons, and is prohibited from obtaining employment or volunteer positions involving anyone under 16.

Watkins was found guilty in September on four counts each of sexual assault and sexual interference related to allegations by four former students.

He was also found guilty on two charges of criminal harassment because his actions made some of his victims feel so uncomfortable they skipped classes.

The students were all under the age of 16 at the time of the offences. A publication ban prevents CBC from reporting information that could identify them.

Touching made students uncomfortable

Ontario Court Justice Ann Alder heard them describe how Watkins would approach female students who required extra help, 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.

Watkins testified in his defence, but Alder said she found his testimony argumentative, evasive and condescending.

In her sentencing decision, Alder pointed to several aggravating factors including the youth of Watkins's victims and the fact that as a teacher, he was in a position of trust.

In summarizing victim impact statements submitted by two of the victims, Alder said one felt robbed of her future, self-esteem and ability to connect with others, including a fear of being touched. Another suffered depression and anxiety, and remains afraid to this day.

Those impacts are significant and ongoing, Alder concluded.

Board, college implement new training

As his sentence was read, Watkins looked straight ahead, responding only to shake his head when asked if he had any questioned.

Alder noted these are the former teacher's first offences, and that he has significant support available to him. She also referred to numerous letters of support submitted to the court in which Watkins was praised for his contributions to the community through teaching and coaching.

Alder also mentioned Watkins's difficult childhood and the abuse he suffered, though she said it appeared he'd overcome his difficult start in life.

In a statement issued at the time of his conviction, the Ottawa Catholic School Board said it has worked with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to provide additional training to all staff since Watkins was charged, and implemented a new policy in 2022 to prevent and report child sexual abuse.

The board confirmed in 2021 that Watkins was no longer employed there.

The Ontario College of Teachers also implemented mandatory sexual abuse prevention training for all teachers as of January 2022.