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Reservist concedes soldier’s death was preventable

Major Darryl Watts (right) and lawyer Balfour Der arrive for court martial proceedings in Calgary, Alberta on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012.


A Calgary reservist charged with manslaughter in a training accident in Afghanistan acknowledged Tuesday he could have prevented the death of a fellow soldier.

Under cross-examination at his court martial, Major Darryl Watts conceded that if he had ordered his soldiers into nearby armoured vehicles during the firing of an anti-personnel mine, it is likely Corporal Josh Baker would still be alive.

"Would you say if the men were inside they would have been uninjured and Cpl. Baker would not have died?" asked prosecutor Major Dylan Kerr.

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"Correct," replied Major Watts.

Major Watts maintained he was not in charge of the firing-range safety that day in February, 2010. But as platoon commander, he said, if he had any concerns about the firing exercise, he had the authority to call it off.

"If I had decided it needed to be done, it would have been done," said Major Watts. "As a platoon commander, the order would have been mine – yes."

But with the soldiers dressed in full combat gear, Major Watts said he was convinced neither he nor his men were in any danger.

"I did not think that would be a risk to us … a risk to anyone. At no point did anyone suggest anything was unsafe or wrong," he said.

Major Watts, 44, faces six charges, including manslaughter, unlawfully causing bodily harm, breach of duty and negligent performance of duty.

Cpl. Baker, 24, died when the C19 Claymore anti-personnel mine, packed with 700 steel balls, raked the Canadian Forces platoon on a range four kilometres north of Kandahar.

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He was struck four times and one of the steel balls penetrated his chest. Four other soldiers were seriously injured.

Major Watts confirmed that none of the ball bearings penetrated the armoured vehicles at the firing range.

He was asked if he had confirmed the credentials of Warrant Officer Paul Ravensdale, the range safety officer, before allowing him to test the mine.

Major Watts said he had not and took the word of his own commanding officer, Major Chris Lunney, about WO Ravensdale's qualifications. "Maj. Lunney had assured me Warrant Ravensdale was qualified to run the range."

Warrant Officer Troy MacGillivray was the second in command to Major Watts until he was wounded in December, 2009.

WO MacGillivray testified Major Watts was always well prepared and concerned about the well-being and safety of his men.

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But under cross-examination, WO MacGillivray acknowledged that when assigning someone to train troops on new weapons, it is important to check the experience and qualifications of the individual.

"Before you put the lives of your soldiers in his hands, you'd make bloody sure this individual knew what he was doing," prosecutor Major Tony Tamburro put to WO MacGillivray.

"Yes I would," WO MacGillivray replied.

The defence has wrapped up its case. Final arguments are scheduled for Wednesday morning.

"I thought the testimony of Major Watts was compelling," said his lawyer, Balfour Der. "I think it put his position pretty squarely before the panel that he did everything he could to ensure safety by turning the matter over to someone who was an expert when he knew nothing about it."

The matter could be in the hands of the five-member military jury by Thursday.

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