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$9.5M sexual abuse class-action lawsuit against Stampede moves forward with 300 claimants

About 300 people have joined a $9.5-million class action lawsuit against the Calgary Stampede, which admitted negligence after a serial sexual abuser worked for decades with teenage performers from the Young Canadians, a judge heard Tuesday. 

Lawyers for the claimants and Stampede were in court Tuesday to update Court of King’s Bench Justice Paul Jeffrey on how the funds will be distributed and to work out details of a plan to notify all potential class members of an upcoming settlement approval hearing.

About two dozen of the 300 claimants fall into the third, most serious category of harm suffered due to Philip Heerema’s abusive actions, the judge heard as part of the proposed settlement hearing. 

Carsten Jensen, one of the lawyers from JSS Barristers, called the case a “long running and hard fought class action.”

“This isn’t the end of the case but we hope it’s the beginning of the end,” said Jensen.

“We also hope it’s the beginning of a new future for the class members, many of whom have been severely impacted by [Philip] Heerema and the failure of the Stampede to protect them.”

Sexual abuse of teens

Heerema worked for the Young Canadians for 36 years, first as a performer and later as an employee. The Young Canadians, consisting mostly of teen performers, are featured nightly in the Calgary Stampede’s Grandstand Show every July.

In 2018, Heerema admitted to sexually abusing six teenage boys through the course of his employment at the Young Canadians School of Performing Arts, admitting to using his position to lure and groom the boys into sexual relationships between 1992 and 2014.

Heerema pleaded guilty to eight charges, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child pornography and luring. He was handed a 10-year sentence but has since been released on day parole. 

On Tuesday, Justice Jeffrey heard there are three categories of claimants who will receive compensation based on the level of harm they experienced during their time with the Young Canadians. 

Students who were members of the Young Canadians but were not victims of Heerema will receive “modest payment.”

2 dozen in most impacted group

Those who were not directly harmed by Heerema but witnessed incidents fall into the second group.

The balance of the settlement funds will go to about two dozen people who were directly affected by Heerema’s actions.

Lawyers are now tasked with tracking down as many potential class members as possible through various means such as social media, press releases, websites, etc., advising of the right to participate in the settlement approval hearing, including the right to object to the settlement.

The Calgary Stampede must also post notice to its Instagram account.

“We think word has got out to most of the people who may have been impacted here,” said Jensen. 

Once the judge signs off on the settlement at the approval hearing in June, claimants will go through an assessment process with trauma-informed assessors to determine which category they fall into. 

Last year, the Stampede admitted to negligence and breach of duty and agreed to pay all damages.

During a parole hearing in January, Heerema told the board there were more victims who had not come forward.

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