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Sentencing hearing begins for former Ottawa high school teacher found guilty of sex crimes against students

WARNING: This story contains details about sexual assault against minors and suicidal ideation.

A sentencing hearing began today for a former Ottawa high school teacher and basketball coach that was found guilty of multiple sex crimes against young students.

The crimes include sexual assault and sexual exploitation, all involving minors.

The case involves four former students with the crimes spanning over a period of seven years, up until 2021.

Rick Watkins, formerly known as Rick Despatie, was a teacher at St. Matthew High School in Orléans.

In September, he was found guilty of four counts of sexual assault, four counts of sexual interference, two counts of criminal harassment and one count of sexual exploitation. The court heard the incidents took place in class and when he was offering students extra help for their studies.

It included sexual touching around the legs and shoulder area. On Friday, two victims revealed how the crimes have changed their lives.

In a victim impact statement, one former student said in part, “It feels like I was robbed of my future, my dignity, and my self esteem.” The victim went on to say, “I will spend the rest of my life rebuilding myself.”

A second victim impact statement read by the Crown said in part, “I was only 12-years-old and I didn’t know how to process what I had been through.”

The statement went on to say, “I was 12 and suicidal, it wasn’t my fault, but I still blame myself.”

During sentencing submissions on Friday, the Crown said it is seeking a sentence of five years in prison while Watkins’ defence asked for a one year conditional sentence.

In court today, Watkins was wearing an orange short-sleeved shirt. He stared straight ahead and did not say anything when given a chance by the judge. Watkins defence lawyer declined comment to CTV News Ottawa.

Watkins originally faced 54 charges. He was later acquitted of nine offences, including a charge of assault for allegedly choking a student. The Crown previously told CTV News it proceeded with 20 charges in total.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) said their top priority is the safety of all children in their care.

“We have taken proactive measures since Watkins was charged,” the OCSB said in a statement to CTV News.

The board says it has partnered with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to provide comprehensive training to all staff, including a program that equips staff to recognize and prevent child abuse.

Additionally, the board said the Ontario College of Teachers has made it mandatory for all teachers to undergo sexual abuse prevention training as of January 2022.

The judge’s decision in this case is scheduled for January 22 at the Ottawa courthouse.

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