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Partial settlement in class-action lawsuit approved; Stampede's admission, payout to move forward

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An Alberta court justice has approved a partial settlement in a class-action lawsuit involving decades-long sexual abuse within The Young Canadians at the Calgary Stampede by an adult supervisor.

The settlement agreement was announced on July 26, pending Justice Alice Woolley's approval, which she gave on Monday.

The settlement agreement will see the Calgary Stampede accepting liability and paying out damages.

A two-day mediation is set for Dec. 14 and 15 to determine what the dollar amount will be.

Stampede will not, however, have to pay additional punitive damages -- the class members have opted to let those go.

"It is a good first step that is in the best interest of the class and is fair and reasonable," Woolley said in court on Monday morning.

Woolley called the settlement agreement "a comprehensive admission of liability" and said there were "extremely meaningful confessions here."

Woolley took no issue with the exclusion of punitive damages in the settlement agreement.

On Monday afternoon, the Calgary Stampede released the following statement:

"In July 2023, the Stampede accepted responsibility with the filing of this settlement on liability. Today's approval by the courts is an important step in the process to reach a final settlement agreement, which we hope will help the victims and their families begin to heal."

The proceedings stem from the actions of Phillip Heerema.

Phillip Heerema was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2018 for sexually exploitative acts related to six members of the Young Canadians.

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.

Heerema was convicted for incidents that took place for more than two decades between 1992 and 2014.

Documents filed in the lawsuit, which was launched in 2017, also allege that Heerema’s abusive behaviour may have stretched back as far as 1987.

In a statement to CTV News on July 26, after the settlement agreement was first presented, the Stampede said it takes "full responsibility in the hopes of helping victims to heal."

"We can't change the events of the past, but we are deeply sorry for how the victims have been affected," read the statement.

"Our commitment to those impacted is to do everything possible to guard against anything similar ever happening again, and we have taken meaningful steps to enhance the safety and wellness of our youth participants."

One class member calls this a step in the right direction, but not the end of the road.

The class member would like the matter to move along faster than it has.

"There's still no end in sight for victims. This has been a long, drawn-out process for many years," the class member said.

"I came forward 10 years ago and there's been nothing done by the Stampede since then. So this continues to drag on."

Stampede paying out damages is "definitely the right thing," the class member believes, as is taking steps to prevent such a thing from happening again.

But the class member also believes it shouldn't stop there:

"We are going to continue to deal with this throughout our lives. This is not something that's just, you know, going to be done," the class member said.

"I think there's more to be done."

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With files by Alesia Fieldberg, Mark Villani and The Canadian Press

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