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'We are deeply sorry': Calgary Stampede admits liability in decades-long sex assaults involving Young Canadians performers

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The Calgary Stampede has accepted liability and negligence that the organization was aware an adult staffer with The Young Canadians had been abusing teenage boys for years before a police investigation was launched.

A settlement was announced Wednesday between  the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede Limited, and Calgary Stampede Foundation and a number of members of the Young Canadians.

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

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.

An exact dollar figure of damages and the method in which damages will be awarded to victims has also not yet been determined.

 In a statement to CTV News on Wednesday, the Stampede said it ‘take 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."

HEEREMA SENTENCED

Phillip 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.

Heerema has counsel but no lawyer was present Wednesday. He is not participating in the part of the damages/liability process, which is entirely an undertaking of the Calgary Stampede.

The lawsuit alleged that one of the victims, who was just 16-years-old at the time, approached a Grandstand Show executive in 1988 and reported being abused by Heerema.

The victim claimed to have been told that his allegations could have serious consequences. He said he did not pursue the matter over fear that he may have been removed from the Young Canadians group.

VICTIMS RESPOND: ‘SOMETHING THAT NEVER SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED'

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 said that not all victims are represented in the class action suit.

The victims cannot be identified under a publication ban, but some did provide brief statements following court proceedings on Wednesday.

“It's something that never should have happened and we have got to take steps to address it and make sure it never happens again," said one victim.

“I don't really feel relieved just yet, there's still quite a bit of work to do. It's been challenging. A lot of my friends still to this day are from the organization. I got a lot of close relationships, some of those people were victims, others weren't, and there's a lot of camaraderie among the people, and my generation that were there.”

Another victim that goes by the initials N.B. also provided a brief statement noting that more work needs to be done to hold the Stampede accountable.

“So far we're just supposed to take their word that they've made changes to these programs to address the culture that allowed what happened for almost 30 years and personally I don't really trust their ability to know how to make changes,” they said.

N.B. was the representative plaintiff in the class action lawsuit.

'NO END IN SIGHT'

Another victim, who asked not to be named, spoke to CTV about the announcement.

"I think it is a step in the right direction. This is not uncommon for the Stampede to come around at the eleventh hour," they said. "Victims have been going through this since the investigation launched in 2012. Victims have not been able to move on since this started."

They expressed a degree of skepticism over the Stampede's announcement that it's committed to creating a safe environment for performers.

"It's very clear that not enough was being done back...when I was a part of the Young Canadians program," they said. "I'm not necessarily optimistic that the Stampede has come around and will be able to prevent this in the future.

"I don't think therre was any question in anyone's minds that the Stampede was liable," they added. "It's taken since 2013, when this whole thing started, the criminal investigation started, to get us to a point (today) where the Stampede has now said they are liable.

"I don't think it needed to take this long.

"Hearing that the Stampede is taking on liability is definitely a step in the right direction, but again, it's only a partial settlement deal. There's still a long way to go, and we are far off from being able to put this behind us.

"There's no end in sight for victims."

STAMPEDE COMMITS TO SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR PERFORMERS

The Calgary Stampede said it remains committed to a safe environment for all of its performers and has put forth the following enhancements:

  •        The implementation of a comprehensive system of policies and procedures that ensure safe programs and environments including policies on protected disclosure, duty of care and investigation procedures.
  •        A commitment to a culture of transparency and disclosure where youth are encouraged to come forward with concerns, establishing an environment where they feel comfortable and feel safe to do so.
  •       State-of-the-art security measures in the performing arts studio, including video surveillance, electronically- controlled access points, and see-through glass doors in all rooms and offices.

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