One of the three dozen men behind a sexual abuse lawsuit filed against the Calgary Stampede says its apology after a partial court settlement last week falls short.
“I think what they told Calgarians and Canadians is just not true,” said the man, identified in court documents as R.W.
The documents outline the settlement in which the Stampede accepts responsibility in a class-action lawsuit alleging a staffer at its Young Canadians School of Performing Arts groomed and abused boys over many years. Philip Heerema is serving a 10-year sentence for luring six boys into sexual relationships when he worked for the school.
In a statement last week, the Stampede said it didn’t hear of problems until 2014, when it acted.
“We took immediate action upon learning of the allegations in 2014,” it said.
Court documents from last week’s settlement — which include evidence from Heerema’s criminal trial — allegeconcerns about him were reported to Stampede authorities as early as 1988.
“(The Stampede) says they should have known sooner,” R.W. said. “(The documents) clearly lay out multiple times since 1988 that people had come forward.”
Those documents, which the plaintiffs’ lawyers say the Stampede has not contested, state the first complaint about Heerema happened in 1988. The documents indicate there were further formal complaints from staff in 2008.
One of the complainants in 2008 referred to performance school policy on inappropriate contact with students, writing: “I have witnessed Phil do this on several occasions, I am confused as to why this has gone on for so long with Phil.”
The Stampede had plenty of chances to act earlier than 2014, R.W. said.
“They should have acted and they should have investigated.”
Member of Parliament George Chahal called for the Stampede to come clean over its relationship with Heerema and what it knew about his activities.
“The Stampede needs to be transparent about what happened over two decades,” Chahal, Liberal MP for Calgary Skyview, said Tuesday.
In its apology last week, the Stampede acknowledged it should have known much for sooner.
The Stampede released an extensive list Tuesday of measures taken to prevent future abuse. Those measures include specific procedures on investigations, rules on supervision and contact, anonymous parental feedback, a confidential disclosure platform, a code of conduct, and the availability of youth psychologists.
“We are working diligently to achieve agreement with the victims,” the Stampede said. “We hope the outcome will help the victims and their families begin to heal.”
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said Tuesday that disclosures of sexual abuse must always be taken seriously.
“The first time someone steps up and says, ‘This has happened to me,’ the responsibility of the adult in the room, whoever the individual is on the receiving end, (is) to act.”
Gondek spoke as mayor, not as a Stampede board member.
R.W., who describes himself as a lifelong Calgarian and fan of the Stampede, said the Stampede has offered little support for Heerema’s victims.
“The Stampede has done nothing,” he said. “They haven’t reached out. And I know I’m not the only victim who would say that.”
In a statement last week, lawyers for the class action noted the Stampede said it had provided support to the young victims after Heerema’s arrest.
“Many class members received no such support,” said the statement from JSS Barristers.
The Stampede did not immediately respond to requests for comment about how victims have been supported.
R.W. points out that Heerema could be coming up for parole soon and the Stampede still hasn’t settled with his victims. The lawsuit remains before the courts and damages are expected to be worked later this year.
“They’ve swept it under the rug for years and now they’re having to deal with it.
“This just speaks to the systemic issue that the Calgary Stampede has. This is deep-rooted culture — it’s not just policies and procedures.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2023.
Bob Weber, The Canadian Press