Judge to decide June 28 on final settlement in Calgary Stampede abuse lawsuit

CALGARY — A judge is to determine in June if he will approve a proposed settlement for complainants in a class-action lawsuit that alleged the Calgary Stampede allowed a performance school staffer to sexually abuse young boys.

The agreement is related to the case of Philip 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 Stampede agreed to pay $9.5 million in damages, and Court of King's Bench Justice Paul Jeffrey is to determine if the deal is approved on June 28.

"This isn't the end of the case, but we hope it's the beginning of the end," the plaintiffs' lawyer Carsten Jensen told court Tuesday.

"We also hope it's the beginning of a new future for the class members, many of whom have been severely impacted by Mr. Heerema and the failure of the Stampede to protect them," Carsten said.

Three of the plaintiffs were in the courtroom to watch the proceedings.

Jensen said if the deal is approved, the $9.5 million will be held in trust and eventually handed over to an independent claims adjuster with a "trauma-informed" background.

There are about 300 plaintiffs that could be eligible for some of the money.

Jensen said there are three categories of plaintiffs: students who were abused; students who were not directly victims but were in the Young Canadians; and those not directly harmed but who may have seen something.

Jensen said the bulk of the settlement will go to about two dozen individuals who were more seriously impacted by their experiences with Heerema.

"There will be a point system established based on the relative harm and the remaining funds will be distributed to the most harmed members in accordance with that point system," he said.

Heerema, who was named in the class action, was granted day parole in January and admitted during his hearing that there were other victims who did not come forward.

He was expected to return to Calgary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2024.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version incorrectly spelled the first name of Philip Heerema.