A former math teacher and basketball coach at St. Matthew High School in Ottawa has been found guilty of several charges of sexual assault, sexual interference, sexual exploitation and criminal harassment involving girls who were his students at the time of the offences.
Rick Watkins, better known as Rick Despatie, appeared virtually as Ontario Court Justice Ann Alder read her decision Thursday morning.
Watkins was found guilty on four counts each of sexual assault and sexual interference related to allegations from four female students.
The victims were all under the age of 16 at the time of the offences. A publication ban prevents CBC from reporting information that could identify any of the victims.
Allegations followed pattern
Alder found the victims provided similar evidence, each describing how Watkins would approach female students who required extra help in his math class. 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.
Alder did question the credibility of one witness who alleged Watkins choked her, touched her breasts and made explicit comments, allegations that were more extreme than the others.
Alder found some of that testimony may have been influenced by text messages the witness had received before coming forward, or tainted by her own conclusions regarding the events. Generally, however, the witness's account was found suitably credible to warrant a guilty verdict on certain counts.
Sentencing date to be set
Watkins had testified in his defence, but Alder found his testimony argumentative, evasive and condescending. She called his assertion that he'd never in his 32 years of teaching closed his classroom door while students were inside absurd.
Watkins was also found guilty on two charges of criminal harassment because it made his students feel so uncomfortable they skipped classes.
Watkins was found guilty of a total of 11 charges and acquitted of the remaining nine.
He is next scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 5 to set a date for sentencing.
School board responds
In a statement, the Ottawa Catholic School Board said it has worked with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to provide additional training to all board staff since Watkins was charged.
"We stand with those affected by these crimes against children and offer our unwavering support," board spokesperson Sharlene Hunter said in a statement.
The training included the Commit to Kids program, which aims to safeguard children from abuse.
The board said it implemented a new policy in 2022 to prevent and report child sexual abuse. One change is the mandatory involvement of the superintendent of human resources in the handling of all reports of sexual abuse or grooming of children.
The Ontario College of Teachers also implemented mandatory sexual abuse prevention for all teachers as of January 2022.