Balfour Der – successfully defended Army Major in a Canadian Court Martial

Major Darryl Watts, a member of the Canadian Forces Reserve and a senior firefighter in Calgary, received news this week that a 5 year legal battle was over. In 2010, then Capt Watts, was deployed to Afghanistan where his troops were training in the Afghan desert by conducting weapons practice. During the course of firing the C19 defensive weapons (formerly known as the Claymore Mine) one misfired sending its payload of 700 ball bearings backward killing one soldier and injuring others.

The majority of the soldiers there at the time were under the command of Darryl Watts. However, Darryl had never been trained in the C19 and had never been told it would be used. It was only when he arrived in Afghanistan did he learn it was part of their arsenal. When it came time for training on the C19 Darryl specifically identified for his superior that he was not trained and was not capable of training others. The superior officer advised that Darryl’s second-in-command, Warrant Officer Ravensdale, would handle the C19 range as he was trained and was capable of training others.

On the day of the training accident, no less than five senior officers all who were trained on the C19, were present on the range. Not one of these officers noted any issues and none were concerned about the C19 range was being conducted. All believed Warrant Ravensdale was more than capable of safely running the practice. Ironically when the misfire occurred, Darryl Watts was being shown the C19 by a private. Darryl had never actually seen one before then.

Following the accident, the military police investigated and about a year later charged Darryl Watts with manslaughter and five other charges. Also charged with the same offences was Warrant Ravensdale. Darryl’s superior, Maj Lunney was also charged but with lesser offences. Maj Lunney pled guilty to a single count and was demoted from major to captain. Darryl Watts and Warrant Ravensdale were tried separately each having pled not guilty.

Warrant Officer Ravensdale was represented by military lawyers from Defence Counsel Services. However, because of potential conflict of interest the other two accused were allowed civilian lawyers of their choice. Darry Watts chose me – Balfour Der.

A court martial was assembled in November of 2013 in the Calgary Armoury. The Officer’s Mess Hall was turned into the court room. Over the period of a month the trial continued before a military judge and a jury of five senior officers. In the end the jury acquitted Darryl Watts of the three most serious charges but found him guilty of the lesser three. Those convictions were appealed and in September of 2014 the Court Martial Court of Appeal overturned the convictions. On one, they outright acquitted, and on the remaining two they allowed the prosecution the option of a retrial. After some months of serious deliberation the prosecution chose not proceed any further.

Warrant Ravensdale in his separate trial was acquitted of manslaughter but convicted of the remaining five charges. He was sentenced to a jail term that was suspended. He was no longer in the military at the time. Ravensdale never appealed.

Darryl Watts has now been reinstated to his rank at the time of being charged, major. He still faithfully serves in the Reserves and continues to be a fireman in Calgary where he lives with his wife and children. When Darryl learned of the prosecution decision not to proceed any further against him, he expressed relief but has an overwhelming sadness for the loss of life and injuries that occurred to the soldiers.

It was a career highlight to have been involved in this case and represent a man of such excellent character. I was the only civilian lawyer in the legal proceedings. Major Watts hand-picked me to represent him. I fostered positive professional relationships with the Military Prosecutors who treated me, an outsider, with the upmost respect. From a legal and personal perspectives, this case ranks as one of my most proud to have been involved with.

Sincerely,

Balfour Der, QC