Halfway houses across Canada refused to take this high-risk offender — except one
Warning: this story contains disturbing details
When Chris Watts, a convicted sex offender and assessed psychopath, was released from a British Columbia prison in 2017, not a single halfway house in the province would take him. They deemed him too great a risk. Some feared for staff safety.
Officials in Prince George had even warned, according to an internal Corrections Canada assessment, that Watts "presents a deeply disturbing case profile and they could not in any conscience consider having him come to this community."
His home province of Ontario was ruled out by federal officials over allegations he had threatened police there. He was also denied in Quebec.
But there was one place that finally agreed to accept him for release into the community. The 58-year-old long-term offender was flown to Nova Scotia, for reasons that even today remain murky and which federal officials refuse to discuss.
In recent months, he's been spotted riding his bike and taking the bus during the two hours a day he's reportedly allowed out of the Jamieson Community Correctional Centre, a halfway house run by Corrections Canada in a Halifax-area industrial park.
The decision to send a man a judge once described as a "cunning, voracious sexual predator" across the country for release is laid out in documents obtained by CBC News, records that reveal in detail the challenges authorities can face when dealing with high-risk offenders who have served their entire prison sentences.
"It would be folly to deny the difficulty that some of these offenders pose in terms of managing the risk they pose out in the community," said John Muise, a former Parole Board of Canada member and a volunteer director of public safety with the charity Abuse Hurts.
Watts is one of roughly 440 offenders on release in towns and cities across the country under what are called long-term supervision orders, a measure established in the Criminal Code in 1997. Most of them are sex offenders.
Long-term supervision orders are imposed by a judge at sentencing and are one step down from dangerous offender status. They follow a fixed prison term and involve up to 10 years of supervision in the community. Those who violate conditions, even if no criminal charges are laid, can be hauled back to prison for 90 days.
By 2015, Watts had served his entire 12-year prison sentence for manslaughter, sexual interference and sexual assault in the 2001 drug overdose death of 13-year-old Amanda Raymond at a lake east of Kitchener, Ont. By law, he had to be released.
But over the course of the next two years, he repeatedly violated rules imposed by parole officers and the Parole Board of Canada. He would be detained, and released again. In one case, he was back behind bars within a week.
Following the sixth suspension, after allegations came to light that he had threatened to hurt a halfway house manager, he was shipped out of B.C.
"I cannot blame them for not wanting him there," Amanda's mother, Teresa Trupp, said in a phone interview from her Kitchener home.
"But why would you burden him upon another place to do the same to those people who have children? He's just not safe anywhere in this world. Nobody's safe in this world with him out there."
Watts's worrisome behaviour while on release in B.C., according to parole board records, had included secretly recording a meeting with his parole officer, hiring a business to print him out pictures of women in lingerie, and possessing a DVD called Whore's Glory. Handwritten notes about hacking websites and dating apps were discovered in his room.
Parole officers suspected he was planning to set up a "Piggyleaks" website that would include photos or videos of prison guards and police officers.
At one halfway house, according to parole records, he was found with a "bound dossier containing police transcripts and newspaper articles about [his] teenage victim." Also discovered was a short story he'd written called Jane in the Box about "a young woman kidnapped, confined naked and drowned."
Watts's arrival in Halifax in August 2017 prompted a public warning from local police, who issued a news release that cautioned he "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."
Internal records from Corrections Canada, filed in February as part of an ongoing Federal Court case, show that even some parole officers in B.C. were taken aback by the decision to send him to Nova Scotia.
The decision was made, according to an internal email from an assistant area director in the Fraser Valley, when all other options had been "exhausted," after unsuccessfully canvassing various parts of the country. A Corrections Canada intelligence officer noted there were no "security concerns in the Halifax area which would have precluded him from residing at Jamieson CCC."
In a statement, Corrections Canada said it will not comment on the Watts case due to the Privacy Act, and would not say why his risk could be managed in Nova Scotia when it could not elsewhere.
Watts himself does not want to be in Nova Scotia. He is challenging in Federal Court the decision by correctional officials to refuse his release in the Vancouver area, where he said his adult daughter lives. He wants a judge to order his return to B.C.
In a lengthy phone interview from the Jamieson halfway house, he chafed at the restrictions on his freedom. He is only allowed out two hours a day, he said, although he refused to say where he goes.
"This place, it's out in the middle of nowhere," he said. "It takes you time to go anywhere. There's no carpeting, there's no plants, there's no pictures. It's just like an institution ... I hate this place."
Watts has been a thorn in the side of police and Corrections Canada for four decades. In the 1980s, he eluded arrest for various crimes in the Hamilton area, where he grew up, by assuming the identity of a dead child with the same year of birth.
Once, he claimed to have broken his arm in a Hamilton jail. While being X-rayed in hospital he managed to escape guards and was on the lam for 50 days.
Death of Amanda Raymond
But his criminal record took a darker turn in 1989 when he was sentenced to four years in prison after he hog-tied and gagged a teenage girl during a three-day cocaine and alcohol binge.
Then, in 2001, during a party at his home on a small private island on Puslinch Lake, about 20 minutes east of Kitchener, he sexually assaulted Amanda Raymond. She was comatose at the time after taking fatal levels of morphine, oxycondone and amphetamine.
He and others wrote degrading things on her naked, lifeless body with a marker. She died of an overdose in conditions a prosecutor described as "squalor."
Police subsequently interviewed other alleged victims, although five counts of sexual assault against Watts were eventually dropped.
When he was sentenced in 2003, a judge said Watts had preyed "on vulnerable, immature, to some extent drug-dependent girls as young as 13 years of age." He said Watts was "totally defiant, totally without any sense of guilt, totally without any sense of remorse."
Federal halfway houses
Across the country, Corrections Canada has more than 200 contracts with non-governmental agencies that run community-based residential facilities, also known as halfway houses.
They range from hostel-like settings to private homes, and aim to bridge the gap between prison and community. Many are run by charities, and some offer specific help for problems such as drug addiction.
But the federal government also runs its own facilities for high-risk offenders called community correctional centres (CCCs), including Jamieson and two others in the Atlantic region. They are classified as minimum security institutions, although some prison policies do not apply.
To be honest with you, I deeply regret not disappearing when I walked out of prison.- Chris Watts
In an email, a Corrections Canada spokesperson said there are rules surrounding curfews and leave privileges. There's video surveillance, urine can be tested for drugs and alcohol, offenders must sign in and out using a log sheet, and some are subject to electronic monitoring.
There's also, according to Corrections Canada, access to programs that provide mental-health counselling, help finding work, and volunteers who do things like take offenders to appointments or teach them how to cook.
"Staff working within our CCCs closely monitor offender movements in and out of CCCs; they are aware of the whereabouts of the offenders during the day when they are out in the community," according to spokesperson Marie Pier Lécuyer.
Still, at any given time, dozens of long-term offenders who had been on release are back in jail for new crimes. In the past five years, there have been nearly 900 convictions involving long-term offenders under supervision, according to numbers provided by Corrections Canada.
Most are for breaches of conditions, but some do involve violence, including two counts of murder.
In an interview, Watts said he is writing a memoir, but USB sticks with his manuscripts and other work have been confiscated.
He is, in fact, a published author. In prison, he wrote a book, under the pseudonym C.W. Michael, called The Criminal's Handbook: A Practical Guide to Surviving Arrest and Incarceration in Canada. Halifax Public Libraries stocks three copies.
There is little writing these days. He is allowed no access to the internet or a computer. He taps out his court applications on a typewriter. He has been banned from local libraries. His conditions, as ordered by the parole board, are a page long.
"To be honest with you, I deeply regret not disappearing when I walked out of prison," he said of his first release in 2015, suggesting he should have fled the country. "I mean, that was a mistake on my part."
For every allegation against him, he has an answer, often one that describes how he claims he's been wronged. He is fixated on grievances, both past and present.
He denies he was a threat to parole officers and other staff in B.C., and said he is "absolutely not" a risk to the public.
He said he is not a psychopath (the test, he said, was not the most accurate). He said he is not a sex predator ("That's a load of crap," but "suddenly a young teenage girl dies and all of a sudden you try to paint me up like I'm Paul Bernardo.")
The only thing he is guilty of in Amanda's death, he said, is "not being aware of what was going on." He'd never met her before, he said, didn't know how young she was and is sorry he didn't "keep an eye on her."
Leif Jensen, a Saskatoon lawyer who recently represented at the Supreme Court of Canada a former inmate ordered to live at a Regina community correctional centre against his wishes, said long-term offenders are, by their nature, "very difficult to manage."
The designation, he said, is meant to ensure there's no reoffending and to protect the public during supervised reintegration into society. But he said the restrictions in the Watts case strike him as particularly stiff.
"The Supreme Court always says rehabilitation is a critical component of reintegration, and I'm just not sure how you can get any kind of reintegration or rehabilitation off of two hours in an industrial area," he said in an interview.
Muise, the former parole board member, said sending Watts across the country is "problematic," particularly because he reportedly has family living in B.C.
For Canadians that "don't give a crap about that," Muise has a warning: One day, possibly as soon as 2025, Watts's long-term supervision order will expire. For the sake of public safety, his proper reintegration is vital.
That hasn't been easy.
Two months after arriving in Nova Scotia, Watts violated his conditions by accessing Facebook at the Dartmouth North Public Library and messaging two women while being monitored by a parole officer.
Later that day, he showed the parole officer a photo of a young naked woman and a naked girl straddling him. Halifax Regional Police later determined it had been taken in 1999 at the same home where Amanda Raymond would die a year and a half later.
The girl in the picture was just 17 at the time. Two days after it was taken she left the island and went to a hospital in Cambridge, Ont. She reported she'd been sexually assaulted. She ultimately declined to press charges.
Following the discovery of the photo and the breach of his conditions, Watts spent 17 months in custody. A search of his electronic records found nine copies of the photo. He was released in February after being sentenced to time served for the breach, and returned to the Jamieson halfway house.
In an interview, Watts was circumspect about how he had obtained the hard copy of the photo after all these years. He said someone had sent it to him, but refused to identify who.
He did acknowledge one thing: he had intended to publish the photo in his memoir. It would exonerate him, he claimed, of accusations he had sexually assaulted the girl. The sex, he said, had been consensual.
"I've written about the media, how you take information and twist stuff around," he said. "Which is exactly what the Crowns do."
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