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Former Halifax paddling coach resolves last sex charge with peace bond

Donald Paul Henderson, a former paddling coach at Maskwa Aquatic Club in Halifax, enters Dartmouth provincial court Wednesday for sentencing on a charge of sexually exploiting a teenage girl about 30 years ago.
Donald Paul Henderson is shown at Dartmouth provincial court in January 2020. A charge of sexual assault against the former paddling coach was dismissed Tuesday after he entered into a one-year peace bond. - Steve Bruce

The last remaining charge against a former Halifax-area paddling coach who was arrested in 2018 on allegations of sexually assaulting or exploiting three female athletes about 30 years earlier was dismissed Tuesday after he entered into a peace bond.

Donald Paul Henderson, 55, appeared in Dartmouth provincial court with lawyer Stan MacDonald on a charge of sexual assault involving one of the women.

The Crown alleged the offence was committed in Dartmouth in 1988, when Henderson was in his early 20s and was coaching at Maskwa Aquatic Club in Halifax.

Henderson was supposed to stand trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court earlier this month on the charge but re-elected to send the matter back to provincial court.

On Tuesday, MacDonald told Judge Alanna Murphy his client was agreeing to the terms of a one-year peace bond in the amount of $1,000, with no deposit required.

The judge ordered Henderson to keep the peace and be of good behaviour and have no contact with the alleged victim, whose identity is protected by a publication ban.

Henderson must not be within 250 metres of the woman’s residence or place of employment and is prohibited from attending the western end of Lake Banook in Dartmouth, where three clubs with paddling programs are located.

Should incidental contact bring Henderson within 25 metres of the complainant, he must “immediately leave the vicinity and make all reasonable efforts to avoid any other contact.”

The charge was dismissed after Henderson signed the peace bond.

Henderson is married and has two teenage daughters. Three women he used to coach filed complaints with police about him in 2018.

Police announced that September that he had been charged with one count of sexual assault and four counts of sexual exploitation.

Henderson pleaded guilty in November 2019 to a charge of sexually exploiting one of the complainants and was sentenced in January 2020 to 90 days in jail to be served intermittently, followed by two years’ probation.

The judge also banned Henderson from working or volunteering in any capacity that would give him authority over children for a period of 10 years, placed him on the sex offender registry for 20 years and ordered him to provide a DNA sample for a national databank.

The victim in that case was 14 when Henderson, who was roughly 10 years older, initiated sexual relations with her at his family’s cottage near Martinique Beach. They had intercourse between 12 and 15 times over the next year or so.

The girl could not legally consent to sex because Henderson was in a position of trust or authority over her.

What Henderson did was “completely wrong, immoral and illegal,” Crown attorney Rick Hartlen told the court in January 2020.

As part of that plea bargain, Henderson acknowledged having an earlier sexual relationship with another of the complainants, but charges involving that woman were dismissed.

Following Tuesday’s court appearance, Hartlen explained the Crown’s rationale for resolving the sexual assault charge with a peace bond.

“In every prosecution, it is necessary for us to continually evaluate the prospect of conviction and the public interest in proceeding with the charges,” the prosecutor told The Chronicle Herald.

“In this circumstance, a decision was made to terminate the charge based on an evaluation of the available evidence and a desire to spare the complainant the necessity of having to participate in a contested trial.

“Mr. Henderson remains subject to several stringent court orders and today entered into a peace bond designed to ensure that the complainant does not suffer any further trauma.”

MacDonald, Henderson’s lawyer, did not wish to comment.

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