Former Halifax-area paddling coach sentenced for sexual touching

A former Halifax-area paddling coach has been given a 90-day intermittent jail sentence after pleading guilty to one charge of sexual touching.

Donald Paul Henderson, 54, appeared in Dartmouth provincial court on Wednesday for sentencing after pleading guilty in November.

Henderson was previously facing two counts of being in a position of trust and touching a young person for a sexual purpose, two counts of being in a position of trust and inviting a young person to touch for a sexual purpose, and one count of sexual assault.

Some of those charges have since been dropped, but he's due back in court later this month to deal with the sexual assault charge.

Henderson was a coach with the Maskwa Aquatic Club in Halifax, but hasn't worked there since 1997.

Emma Davie/CBC

Halifax Regional Police previously said they received multiple complaints in the spring and summer of 2018.

The offences are alleged to have occurred between 1988 and 1991 in Halifax, Dartmouth and East Petpeswick.

On the charge for which Henderson pleaded guilty, the incidents occurred between Dec. 31, 1988, and Dec. 31, 1990.

Crown attorney Rick Hartlen said in court on Wednesday that Henderson was 10 years older than the victim and was her paddling coach at the time.

Hartlen said Henderson invited the victim to his family's cottage when she was about 14 or 15 years old. She believed it was a gathering or party of some sort, but that wasn't the case.

"The older adult male brought this young lady, who was essentially in his charge, and convinced her to have sexual relations with him," Hartlen said.

Victim impact

The Crown attorney said because of her age, the victim did not have the capacity to consent. Hartlen said there were an additional 12 to 15 incidents of sexual intercourse.

In her victim impact statement, the woman said the offence led to difficult relationships with school friends and paddling teammates.

"I was labelled as a slut and grew up to feel disgusted by myself," she said in the statement, which was read aloud in court by Hartlen.

The victim also said she experienced reduced self-esteem, feelings of guilt and mistrust.

Psychologist's report

Hartlen referenced a psychologist's report, which said Henderson now understands what he did was illegal.

Hartlen said this points to a "relatively immature young man who wrongly engaged in coaching" and came to see the teens he was coaching as members of his viable dating pool.

Henderson also told the psychologist he would not allow a person of a similar age to date his teenage daughters.

Henderson's lawyer, Stan MacDonald, said the report states Henderson is at the lowest level of risk to reoffend.

What the judge had to say

Judge Theodore Tax said on Wednesday that given the nature of the incident, the joint sentencing recommendation was at the low — if not the lowest — end of the range that would be acceptable.

But he noted the strict conditions addressed his concerns and deterrence may have already been accomplished by Henderson's coming to court, the public nature of the charge and media coverage.

Tax also said Henderson's admission of guilt meant the victims did not have to testify and relive the events.

Henderson's sentence

Henderson will serve his jail sentence from Sundays at 8 p.m. to Wednesdays at 6 a.m., starting on Jan. 12. Those days were chosen to best accommodate his children and their sporting activities.

While spending time in the community, Henderson must report to a probation officer, remain in Nova Scotia unless given permission to leave and have no contact with the victims.

He's also not allowed to spent time alone with a female under the age of 16, except his own children, unless he's in the company of his wife.

Henderson was also ordered to register as a sex offender and had to provide a DNA sample. He's not allowed to work or volunteer in a position of trust for 10 years and must serve two years probation on top of his jail sentence.

"The totality of the sentence ... is enough to send out a message to any like-minded person in Mr. Henderson's shoes that the benefit far outweighs the cost," Hartlen said. "That's the message the court and we wanted to send today."

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