February 28th, 2024

‘Not celebrating yet’: Tentative $9.5M settlement reached in Stampede abuse lawsuit

By Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press on February 6, 2024.

The Calgary Stampede has agreed to pay $9.5 million in damages to complainants in a class-action lawsuit that alleged the organization allowed a performance school staffer to sexually abuse young boys. Crowds at the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Sunday, July 9, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY – The Calgary Stampede has agreed to pay $9.5 million in damages to complainants in a class-action lawsuit that alleged the organization allowed a performance school staffer to sexually abuse young boys.

The agreement is related to the case of Phillip Heerema.

Heerema received a 10-year prison sentence in 2018 after pleading guilty to charges including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child pornography and luring.

Heerema admitted he used his position with the Young Canadians School of Performing Arts – which performs each year in the Calgary Stampede Grandstand Show – to lure and groom six boys into sexual relationships between 2005 and 2014, as well as in 1992.

The school is operated by the Calgary Stampede Foundation.

Last fall, the Stampede admitted to negligence and breach of duty and agreed to pay all damages, but the final number was not resolved.

Lawyer Cory Ryan, who represents the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede and the Calgary Stampede Foundation, said Tuesday the amount has been tentatively settled.

“The representative plaintiff and Stampede defendants have reached a tentative resolution on damages and costs, subject to court approval and the establishment of an approved claims and distribution process,” said Ryan in a statement.

“The resolution includes a commitment by the Stampede defendants’ insurers to pay an all-inclusive amount of $9.5 million to settle the claims of class members.”

Ryan said the deal also includes a commitment to additional measures and programs.

His statement said the resolution was agreed to following extensive settlement discussions, with the help of two Court of King’s Bench judges.

“If formally implemented, it is the parties’ hope that the resolution will provide impacted class members with a measure of closure and aid in the healing process,” he said.

About three dozen plaintiffs initially joined the suit.

One of them, who as a victim of sexual assault cannot be identified, told The Canadian Press on Tuesday that the settlement is good news but still tentative, and a lot of questions still need answering.

He said the amount is based on the original number of complainants and tries to account for people who may not have joined the lawsuit yet.

Heerema was recently granted day parole and admitted during his hearing that there were other victims who did not come forward.

“Based on Heerema’s admission at his parole hearing that he ‘knows’ there are more victims, I can see the class growing significantly in the coming months,” said the plaintiff.

He said it’s been a long road for everyone in the case.

“The Stampede has had every opportunity to make this easier for victims, but they chose to drag this on for as long as they did,” he said.

“This is positive momentum, but I’m not celebrating yet.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2024.

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