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MP stands by call to freeze Stampede funding following abuse admission

Federal Member of Parliament George Chahal says no level of government should financially support the Calgary Stampede until there is “responsibility, accountability and justice” for victims of sexual abuse dating back decades.

“The Stampede needs to be transparent of also what happened over two decades and on the impact on those 70 victims,” Chahal said Tuesday.

His call to halt funding came after the Stampede admitted fault in a class-action suit brought by victims of convicted abuser Philip Heerema.

A court found Heerema used his position with the Young Canadians to coerce underage boys into sexual relationships with him.

Heerema is currently serving a 10-year sentence.

In an apology statement released last week, the Stampede said it acted immediately after learning of the police investigation into Heerema in 2014.

“The Calgary Stampede has implemented many measures over the past nine years to ensure the safety and wellness of our youth participants and to guard against anything similar ever happening again,” read a statement sent on Tuesday.

“This matter remains before the courts, and we are working diligently to achieve agreement with the victims. We hope the outcome will help the victims and their families begin to heal.”

The lawyer for the victims says the Stampede’s apology is still “incomplete.”

“The uncontradicted evidence in the class action indicates that in 1988, there was a clear and specific complaint arising from Mr. Heerema’s sexual abuse, to a senior Stampede official, made by a member of the Young Canadians. This was not acted upon,” read a statement from Carsten Jensen of JSS Barristers, the law firm handling the class-action case.

“I am very disappointed that the Stampede has chosen to make a public statement which includes a half-hearted apology tied to the idea that they acted in a timely way,” Jensen said.

“The evidence does not support this statement, and no apology will be meaningful unless it is complete, genuine and accompanied by appropriate compensation.”

The court is scheduled to decide on compensation on Sept. 25.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said Tuesday she accepts the statement of responsibility and apology from the Calgary Stampede but went on to say all organizations need to pay attention and act quickly.

“The first time someone steps up and says ‘this has happened to me,’ whoever the individual is on the receiving end of it needs to act,” Gondek said.

“All of our organizations need to understand that, especially when it’s a child, when it is a child it is absolutely the responsibility of the adult in the room to take matters further up and make sure that something is done.”

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