Ottawa teacher charged with dozens more sex crimes against former students

·3 min read
Rick Watkins, 57, better known by his former surname Despatie, taught math to grades 7 and 8 at St. Matthew High School in Orléans. (@Montreal1963/Twitter - image credit)
Rick Watkins, 57, better known by his former surname Despatie, taught math to grades 7 and 8 at St. Matthew High School in Orléans. (@Montreal1963/Twitter - image credit)

An Ottawa high school math teacher who for years has been the subject of complaints by parents has been charged with dozens more sexual offences involving 14 former students.

Rick Watkins, 57, better known by his former surname Despatie, is facing 45 new charges, Ottawa police sexual assault detectives announced Wednesday.

"Mr. Despatie" taught math to grades 7 and 8 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.

All told, he's facing 54 criminal charges involving 16 alleged victims.

School apologized for handling of complaints, teacher no longer employed

In a statement Wednesday, the Ottawa Catholic School Board said it continues to cooperate 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.

Bail conditions previously imposed by the court prohibit him from being alone with or communicating with anyone younger than 16. He was also ordered not to seek or maintain any kind of paid or unpaid employment that would put him in a position of trust over children.

New charges against teacher

Investigators said Wednesday that they've 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.

Despatie has been charged with 13 counts of sexual assault, 13 counts of sexual interference, 11 counts of criminal harassment or stalking, six counts of voyeurism, one count of assault and one count of assault with a weapon. He was arrested on the new charges by Ottawa police on Tuesday.

Despatie appeared in court Wednesday by video from the Ottawa police cellblock on Elgin Street. He wore a blue T-shirt and blue surgical mask.

Crown prosecutor Vivian-Lee Stewart told court that the police case file is "enormous."

Despatie's lawyer Erin Dann told court that her client wants a bail hearing as soon as possible.

Despatie was ordered not to contact a list of witnesses and complainants in the case, and was remanded into custody until a bail hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Police, meanwhile, continue to appeal for information about the case and asked witnesses or complainants to call the sexual assault and child abuse unit at 613-236-1222 ext. 5944.

Anonymous tips can also be submitted by calling Crime Stoppers toll-free at 1-800-222-8477 or contacting crimestoppers.ca.