Calgary reservist faces court martial in training range death

A major in the Canadian Forces appears before a judge in Calgary, accused of playing a role in the death of a fellow soldier in Afghanistan almost three years ago.

Cpl. Joshua Baker was 24 when he died at a training range in Afghanistan

Exhibit 7 from the court martial case of Maj. Darryl Watts. It shows the area where Cpl. Joshua Baker was killed. (Courtesy Canadian Forces) 2:52

A major in the Canadian Forces appeared before a judge this morning in Calgary, accused of playing a role in the death of a fellow soldier in Afghanistan almost three years ago.

Maj. Darryl Watts faces six charges, including manslaughter. He pleaded not guilty on all counts as his court martial got underway.

Cpl. Joshua Baker was 24 when he died at a training range just outside Kandahar city in February 2010 when an explosive packed with 700 steel balls hit a Canadian Forces platoon. Four other soldiers were wounded.

  • Watch the footage at the top of the story of Exhibit 7 from the court martial case. It shows the area where Cpl. Joshua Baker was killed after the incident. (Courtesy Canadian Forces)

Watts, who was a captain at the time, was the officer in charge on the day of the accident.

Tony Tamurro, the prosecutor from the Office of the Judge Advocate General, says Watts faces charges because of his alleged poor supervision that day.

"There is not an allegation that Maj. Watts intentionally killed anyone or intentionally hurt anyone," said Tamurro. "What the charges allege is that the way a training range that was conducted under his command ... was so negligent as to be criminal."

Tamurro says he plans to call 23 witnesses, all military personnel.

'Significant ramifications'

Watt's civilian lawyer, Balfour Der, said one of the main features of the defence is his client was never trained on the C-19 device that exploded, as he's a reservist and not an infantry man. Der said his client was also never told he was in charge of the safety of the soldiers.

"This has some pretty significant ramifications for the armed forces, in my opinion," he said.

Calgary reservist Darryl Watts, seen here in a 2010 file photo when he was a captain, faces the possibility of a jail sentence if convicted of manslaughter in the friendly-fire death of Cpl. Joshua Baker. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

And Der notes Watts was promoted after the explosion — but before charges were laid.

"Well, you read from the fact that he was promoted to major after the fact that he's a damn good soldier. I expect that you'll hear evidence that will say that Darryl Watts was an extremely competent and capable soldier, leader of his  men, so it’s not the least bit surprising that he was promoted."

Der says if his client is convicted, he doesn't think it bodes well for future reservists.

"He's actually an 11-year firefighter here in Calgary.... He's basically volunteering his time on the weekends or through the week to be trained as best he can to be a soldier and they deploy him as a regular soldier — even though he's not. The training isn't the same." 

Der thinks some people may choose not to get involved if his client is found guilty.

"I don't know who would ever take on responsibility in the military," he said. "If they are going to saddle you with criminal responsibility after the fact for duties you didn't know you had, I wouldn't take that job — I don't know who would."

2 others charged

Watts' court martial will be similar to regular court proceedings, except that the judge is a senior military officer and the jury is made up of five other officers who will determine his guilt or innocence.

If convicted, Watts could be sentenced to prison time in the Canadian Force's detention barracks in Edmonton or in a regular correctional facility.

Lesser punishments can include dismissal from the military, a reduction in rank or a fine. Two other Canadian Forces personnel were charged following the accident.

Warrant Officer Paul Ravensdale, who was the safety officer at the firing range, faces identical charges to Watts.

Last September, Maj. Christopher Lunney pleaded guilty to negligent performance of duty while four other charges were dropped.

He was demoted to captain and received a severe reprimand.

With files from The Canadian Press