Longtime Ottawa teacher charged with sexually assaulting girls under 14

The Ottawa Police station on Elgin Street is seen in Ottawa, on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ottawa police have charged a longtime teacher at an Orléans high school with sexually assaulting young girls.

The police investigation started last month into incidents that allegedly occurred between fall 2020 and March 2021. Police say the offences involved girls under 14.

On Tuesday, police charged Rick Watkins, 57, also known as Rick Despatie, with three charges each of sexual assault, sexual interference and sexual exploitation of a young person.

Police allege the incidents happened while the accused was in the course of his duties as a teacher with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

The OCSB confirmed Tuesday that the accused has been a teacher at St. Matthew High School in Orléans for more than 25 years.

In a statement, the board said the employee has been suspended since March 9, when the allegations came forward.

“The Board takes this situation very seriously and has been cooperating with the Ottawa Police during their investigation,” the statement said. “The Ontario College of Teachers will also be involved in their own investigation.”

Watkins was due to appear in court on Tuesday. Police say they are concerned there could be more victims.

The board says assistance is available for students or staff at the school who need support.

“As a Catholic community, we acknowledge how difficult this situation is, and we offer our support for all those impacted,” OCSB director of education Thomas D’Amico said in the statement.” We are asking that anyone that has any information regarding these allegations please contact the Ottawa Police to assist with their investigation."

Anyone with information is asked to call the Ottawa Police Service Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit at 613-236-1222 ext. 5944.