CALGARY – The lawyer for a Canadian soldier charged after a landmine explosion killed a colleague on a training range in Afghanistan says his client isn’t guilty of a crime.
But the prosecution contends that Maj. Darryl Watts’s supervision of the range on the day in question was negligent to the point that criminal charges are justified.
Watts, a Calgary reservist, faces a court martial this week on a charge of manslaughter and five other offences.
Cpl. Joshua Baker, 24, died on Feb. 12, 2010 at a range four kilometres northeast of Kandahar city when an explosive Claymore mine packed with 700 steel balls raked a Canadian Forces platoon. Four other soldiers were wounded.
Watts is also charged with two counts of negligent performance of a military duty, one count of unlawfully causing bodily harm and two counts of breach of duty.
He was a captain at the time and the officer in charge the day of the accident.
“My personal view is that Darryl Watts didn’t do anything wrong here and certainly didn’t do anything criminal, and hopefully the evidence will bear that out,” said his civilian lawyer, Balfour Der, in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“Legally, it’s a very interesting case in that they’ve charged my client with manslaughter for a negligent act,” he said. “There aren’t very many cases where the prosecution charges manslaughter and then relies on negligence. Usually the charge is criminal negligence causing death.”
The court martial will be similar to regular court proceedings, except the judge will be a senior military officer and the jury will be made up of five other officers who will determine whether Watts is guilty.
“What the prosecution is alleging is the way that range was conducted on the day in question was negligent to the point of attracting criminal liability,” explained Maj. Tony Tamburro, the prosecutor from the Office of the Judge Advocate General.
“No one is alleging anyone here intentionally committed an offence,” he said.
“What we’re saying is that their standard was such a departure from the norm that it attracts criminal liability. So from that point of view, it’s not an intentional offence.”
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.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version included an incorrect surname for the prosecutor and an incorrect list of charges in the case. The earlier version also wrongly identified who was leading the platoon the day of the explosion.