Nova Scotia

High-risk offender shipped across Canada for release wins legal challenge

A high-risk offender sent across the country to live in a Halifax-area halfway house after federal officials deemed him too unsafe for release in B.C. has won a legal battle and $1,000 in costs against Corrections Canada.

Judge orders Corrections Canada to revisit decision to transfer Chris Watts from B.C. to N.S.

Long-term offender Chris Watts lived at the Jamieson Community Correctional Centre in Dartmouth, N.S., following his transfer from B.C. (Halifax Regional Police and Blair Rhodes/CBC)

A high-risk offender sent across the country to live in a Halifax-area halfway house after federal officials deemed him too unsafe for release in B.C. has won a legal battle and $1,000 in costs against Corrections Canada.

Chris Watts, a sex offender who was convicted in the 2001 drug-overdose death of a 13-year-old girl, argued in Federal Court that he should not have been transferred out of B.C. when he was released from prison nearly four years ago.

In a recent written ruling, Justice Richard Southcott found that the assistant commissioner who upheld the transfer failed to properly analyze the reliability of information from an anonymous source who said Watts had made threats toward staff at a halfway house in Chilliwack, B.C.

"The decision therefore lacks the justification and transparency necessary to withstand the reasonableness standard of review," Southcott wrote.

Southcott ordered Corrections Canada to reconsider its decision to move Watts, and said he should be paid $1,000 to cover things such as "printing costs" related to his court action. Watts represented himself.

When asked about Watts's transfer, a spokesperson for Corrections Canada said via email they could not provide specific details of an inmate's case due to the Privacy Act.

Spokesperson Isabelle Robitaille said Corrections Canada "respects and follows the decision made by the Court, while remaining committed to ensuring public safety."

The 2017 decision to send Watts, once described by a judge as a "cunning, voracious sexual predator," to live at a halfway house in a Halifax-area industrial park raised eyebrows at the time among some parole officials, according to internal documents filed as part of the case.

It came after no halfway house in B.C. would accept him, variously citing his risk to the community or to staff. Facilities in his home province of Ontario, along with Quebec, were also ruled out by federal officials due to allegations he had threatened police in those provinces.

Amanda Raymond was from Kitchener, Ont. She was 13 when she died of a drug overdose after being sexually assaulted in 2001. (Amanda Raymond's family)

Not long after launching his court challenge two years ago, Watts, 60, was transferred again, this time to a halfway house run by Corrections Canada in Saint John. He's currently being held at Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick after being charged last June with breaching his release conditions.

By 2015, Watts had served his entire 12-year prison sentence for manslaughter, sexual interference and sexual assault in the death of Amanda Raymond at a lake east of Kitchener, Ont.

He'd been deemed a long-term offender, which meant he would still be supervised in the community for 10 years following the end of his fixed term of incarceration. If he violated release conditions, he could be hauled back to prison for 90 days, even if no criminal charges were laid.

Over the course of the next two years, Watts repeatedly violated rules imposed by parole officers and the Parole Board of Canada. Following the sixth suspension, and after the anonymous allegations came to light that he had threatened to hurt a halfway house manager, he was shipped out of B.C.

His arrival in Halifax prompted a public warning from local police, who issued a news release that cautioned Watts "has exhibited a pattern of providing large quantities of drugs to young girls and engaging in sexual activity with them without regard for their ability to consent."

Halifax police issued a public warning about Watts when he first arrived in the city. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Federal Court decision, which was issued last month, comes as Amanda's mother, Teresa Trupp, said she's tried to come to peace in recent years with her daughter's death by forgiving Watts and turning to her Christian faith. Still, it's a raw feeling to learn a judge has sided with him.

"He should have no rights at all, at this point," she said in an interview Monday. "Mandy will never be at rest. She'll been gone 21 years, and he's still coming up."

Last week, Watts was tried in a Saint John court on charges he breached certain conditions of his release while at a halfway house in the city. He had been forbidden to own, use or possess a computer or any device that would allow access to the internet, and was not allowed to be in the presence of any female under the age of 18 unless supervised.

The court heard that Watts entered a Saint John store on June 2 to buy a copy of a book he'd written in prison, under the pseudonym C.W. Michael, called The Criminal's Handbook: A Practical Guide to Surviving Arrest and Incarceration in Canada.

The book wasn't in stock, so a sales clerk helped him locate it on a computer that linked to the store's national database. The clerk, whose identity is protected by a court order, said Watts entered his own phone number into the computer. The woman also testified that Watts spent a few minutes talking to a teenage coworker.

Judge Kelly Winchester is scheduled to deliver her decision on Feb. 26.