Ex-Ottawa math teacher charged with sex crimes released on bail

·3 min read
Rick Watkins, better known by his former last name Despatie, walks out of the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on Monday after being released on bail for a second time. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
Rick Watkins, better known by his former last name Despatie, walks out of the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on Monday after being released on bail for a second time. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

A former Ottawa high school math teacher charged with more than 50 counts of sex crimes against students has been released on bail for a second time on Monday.

Rick Watkins, 57, better known by his former surname Despatie, was charged last week with 45 additional sexual offences.

"Mr. Despatie" taught math to Grade 7 and 8 students at St. Matthew High School in Orléans. More than a dozen former students and concerned parents told CBC News they had complained about his conduct for more than a decade before he was initially charged in April.

Those earlier charges allege that between September 2019 and March 2021, Despatie touched and sexually assaulted two girls, and did so while he was in a position of trust. By the time those charges were laid against him, Despatie had changed his name to Rick Watkins.

Investigators said last week that they laid more charges based on the complaints of another 14 students, all under the age of 14 at the time of the alleged offences. The new charges span from 2004 to this year.

He is facing 54 criminal charges involving 16 alleged victims in total.

Ordered not to contact alleged victims

Despatie was released by Ontario Court Justice Trevor Brown on Monday, in what was a release consented to by the Crown prosecutor.

Despatie was released on $5,000 bond. Each of his three sureties must also pay $5,000 each if he fails to comply with any of the conditions imposed on him.

Those conditions include having no contact with his alleged victims, their families or witnesses in the case and staying away from St. Matthew High School. Despatie is prohibited from going near any public parks or pools where children might be and is not to be in a position of trust, whether paid or volunteer, over any children.

He is next scheduled to appear in court on July 16.

School apologized to students

In a statement last week, the Ottawa Catholic School Board said it continues to co-operate with the Ottawa police investigation and support both staff and students. The board also said it "can confirm that the individual is no longer an employee of the board."

Spokesperson Sharlene Hunter also said the board has been working with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to address training and policy lapses, and to "create a culture of reporting incidents of concern, and investigate incidents of concern."

After Despatie was first charged in April, the board sent a notice to all parents apologizing to "any former students who have experienced harm by someone in a position of trust."

The board, at that time, said the teacher was "immediately" suspended once the allegations came to the school's attention, but that didn't happen until March 2021, a month before he was charged and years after some of the complaints were made to school administrators.

The board has promised a review of previous complaints against Despatie, who had been a teacher since 1989. He also coached the school's basketball teams and operated a private hockey academy for children.

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