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‘My stomach just sank': Phillip Heerema victims disappointed in Calgary Stampede's participation in Pride parade

Members of the Calgary Stampede march in Calgary's 2023 Pride parade. Members of the Calgary Stampede march in Calgary's 2023 Pride parade.

Plaintiffs in a class-action sex assault lawsuit against the Calgary Stampede are expressing deep disappointment that members of the organization were allowed to walk in the 2023 Calgary Pride Parade.

The Stampede's presence at Pride celebrations comes just weeks after the organization accepted liability and negligence for the actions of the Young Canadians staffer Phillip Heerema, who had been abusing teenage boys for years before a police investigation was launched.

"My stomach just sank when I saw the Stampede members marching in the (Pride) parade, it just felt so wrong to me," said one of the victims in an interview with CTV News.  

"The Calgary Pride Parade has been about protesting against oppression for the queer community. The Stampede, by failing to act for so many years, put members of our community at risk, and it just feels so unacceptable that they would be allowed to walk in this parade."

Heerema was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2018 for sexually exploitative acts related to six members of the Young Canadians, a performing arts group that stars nightly in the Calgary Stampede's Grandstand Show.

The offences took place between 2005 and 2014, as well as in 1992. Documents filed in the lawsuit, launched in 2017, allege that Heerema's abusive behaviour may have stretched back as far as 1987.

The victim who spoke with CTV News cannot be identified under a publication ban, but said the decision to allow Calgary Stampede to march in the parade was "tone deaf" and sends a "damaging message to survivors of abuse."

He also penned a letter to Calgary Pride, noting that many survivors of these horrible crimes are members of the queer and trans community.

"I just want Calgary Pride to really stand by what its values are. I think having groups like the Calgary Stampede involved make me question the purpose, and why we're having the parade in the first place."

The victim also went on to give Calgary Pride the "benefit of the doubt" that perhaps they weren't aware of the Stampede's recent liability admission. Although, he added that the Stampede's apology still doesn't feel sincere, and says their actions of participating in this parade speak louder than words. 

"The Calgary Stampede can continue to tell us that they've changed, but I don't think that they've truly changed because if they did, they would understand why their presence at the Pride parade is problematic," he added. 

Another member of the class-action lawsuit against the Calgary Stampede also took issue with the Calgary Stampede participating in Pride.

"I would have expected somebody at the Stampede to realize the harm that they've done, and particularly to members of that community, since they were largely victimized by Phillip Heerema and his acts," he said.

I don't think it's necessarily an issue of the Stampede removing themselves from the public world or from Pride events or things like that, but if you're going to be there, I think you have to show up wholeheartedly and kind of walk the walk. You can't just put out statements through your lawyers and expect everything to go away." 

Letter to Calgary Pride by Anonymous NbMQ9Ymq on Scribd


Calgary Pride says it is aware of concerns regarding the participation of the Calgary Stampede at its recent parade.

In an email to CTV News, Calgary Pride communications manager Anna Kinderwater says the victims' "vulnerable feedback" has been "acknowledged by staff."

"This has been brought to the board of directors to discuss how we'll be moving forward with this newfound context," said Kinderwater.

"Both the board and staff members are appreciative of the victim's benefit of the doubt, as we were working with the knowledge we had at the time of the jurying process."

"Calgary Pride won't be available for interviews, as this is something to be discussed and treated with intention and respect, and that requires time."

Calgary Pride adds that it may provide further comment on its decision to allow Calgary Stampede members to march in its parade at a later date. 


After originally denying any wrongdoing, the Stampede has now agreed to pay 100 per cent of liability damages, but punitive damages have not been agreed on.

The partial settlement agreement was reached pending any objections and the approval of a judge at a notice of settlement hearing scheduled for Sept. 25.

CTV News has learned that more than 70 individuals are involved in this class-action lawsuit, ranging from those who allege to have been lured or photographed, abused or assaulted 

Young Canadians lawyer Gavin Price says those who were not sexually abused by Heerema are also involved in the lawsuit and have suffered mental traumas of their own. 

CTV News reached out to the Calgary Stampede for comment on its participation in the 2023 Pride parade, but the organization declined to comment as the "matter is still before the courts." Top Stories

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