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'All I did was destroy': Day parole for Calgary sex offender in Young Canadians case

CALGARY — A man sentenced to 10 years in prison for decades of sex offences against members of a young people's performance group has been granted day parole.

Philip Heerema pleaded guilty in 2018 to eight charges, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, luring and making child pornography while he was at the Young Canadians School of Performing Arts.

The six victims were male students between the ages of 15 and 17 who were at the school between 1992 and 2013.

The school, operated by the Calgary Stampede Foundation, puts on nightly grandstand shows during the Stampede.

At a parole hearing in a British Columbia prison on Friday, Heerema was described as having excellent institutional behaviour and being a moderate risk to reoffend. His team recommended that he be granted day parole with conditions.

Heerema said he has support from his church and his family. He intends to return to a halfway house in Calgary as a next step.

The two-member parole board panel said allowing Heerema to return to a halfway house in Calgary isn't a decision it takes lightly, but he will be supervised.

"The board is ever mindful of the nature and gravity of the offence you committed and the significance of the harm you caused," the panel said in its decision.

"You demonstrated a capacity to engage in extensive grooming and did so while in a position of trust to the extent that you have caused lifelong significant, and likely unprecedented, harm."

Heerema, who broke down in tears Friday before the decision, said words can't express his remorse and he realizes that he destroyed people's lives.

"I don't know that there's ever enough words to say I'm sorry … for ruining lives," he said.

"All I did was destroy. And I've carried that every day, and I know they do."

Heerema said he was self-centred, selfish and ashamed of being bisexual. He said he knew he could control and manipulate boys into keeping the abuse secret.

The parole board asked him if there are more victims.

"I believe there probably are more victims," Heerema said. After prodding from a panel member, he added: "I know that there are."

Heerema said if more victims come forward, he will take responsibility. "I would go to court immediately and make amends for what I have done."

The performance school works with students between 11 and 18, and their training in music and dance culminates with grandstand shows during the Stampede every July.

A judge approved last year a partial settlement in a class-action lawsuit, with three dozen plaintiffs, against the Stampede.

The Stampede apologized and said in settling the suit it takes responsibility in the hopes of helping victims heal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2024.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press