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‘The nature of litigation’: Settlement discussions continue in class-action lawsuit against the Calgary Stampede

Settlement discussions continued nearly a month since they started in the class-action lawsuit against the Calgary Stampede that alleged the organization allowed a performance school staffer to sexually abuse young boys for decades.

A two-day mediation process was scheduled to take place on Dec. 14 and 15 at the Calgary Courts Centre to determine how much money the victims are owed in a partial settlement with the Calgary Stampede.

“Settlement discussions are ongoing between the parties; however, we are unable to comment further at this time with respect to this ongoing legal action,” Shannon Greer, the communications and media relations manager with the Calgary Stampede, said on Monday.

JSS Barristers, the law firm handling the class-action case, also said there is no substantive update to provide.

Some of the more than three dozen people named in the lawsuit tell CTV News they are anxious for a resolution and to learn the outcome of the discussions.

However, Gerard Kennedy, an associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta, said it’s not unusual that a settlement has not been reached yet.

“It’s hard to entirely know how settlement discussions would go and the fact that there’s delay is not without more reason to be concerned that things are going off the rails,” he said.

Philip Heerema is serving a 10-year sentence for luring six boys into sexual relationships when he worked for the school between 1992 and 2014.

He pleaded guilty to charges including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, making child pornography and luring in 2018.

Heerema admitted to using his position with the Young Canadians School of Performing Arts to lure and groom six boys into sexual relationships between 1992 and 2014.

The Young Canadians is a performing arts group that performs nightly at the Calgary Stampede Grandstand Show. The school is operated by the Calgary Stampede Foundation.

The Stampede insisted it didn’t hear of any problems until 2014, but victims cited evidence from Heerema’s criminal trial that allege concerns about him were reported to the Stampede authorities as early as 1988.

The partial settlement was announced in July and approved by Justice Alice Woolley in September, in which the Stampede had agreed to an admission of negligence and breach of duty, in addition to paying 100 percent of the damages.

“The fact that the individual was convicted of a crime did prevent the Calgary Stampede from arguing that the abuse did not happen. So, that was probably a particular incentive for them to concede liability and look like they’re behaving like your responsible litigant,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy said there are many factors that play a role in these types of settlement discussions taking longer than scheduled, including the holiday season and the possibility of different settlements being negotiated for different victims based on the severity of abuse.

“This is the nature of litigation settlement negotiations, generally speaking. Because of the partial settlement that occurred last summer and fall the liability has been conceded,” he explained.

“They’re simply trying to negotiate damages to dispense with the need for a trial on the issue of the damages and it could be that different victims are in different situations and they haven’t been able to resolve that appropriately or to the satisfaction of people that have to be satisfied.”

If the mediation process is not successful then the case would go to trial.

“Mediation never guarantees settlement. It’s not like arbitration in that regard. It’s supposed to facilitate settlement, but it doesn’t promise it. So, if settlement is unable to be reached, there will have to be a trial only on the issue of damages,” Kennedy said.

“So only in other words, what the class members are entitled to is compensation, not whether they are entitled to compensation, which again, has been conceded and accepted.”

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