Lawsuit claims Calgary Stampede had prior knowledge of alleged sexual abuse in The Young Canadians

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WATCH: Some serious allegations are being levelled against the Calgary Stampede. Global News has learned a lawsuit has been filed, claiming the Stampede had prior knowledge of alleged sexual abuse in The Young Canadians. At the centre of all this, is accused sex offender Philip Heerema. Nancy Hixt reports – Jan 19, 2018

A proposed class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of several young men accusing Philip Heerema of sexual abuse claims the Calgary Stampede was aware of allegations against the former employee, but failed to act.

A statement of claim filed April 5, 2017 uncovered by Global News states:

“The Young Canadians had actual knowledge of Heerema’s inappropriate conduct, allegations of sexual assault and sexual exploitation with respect to some of the class members as a result of one or more complaints made by one or more faculty members of The Young Canadians.”

A statement of claim filed against Philip Heerema and the Calgary Stampede Foundation. Obtained by Global News

The CEO of the Calgary Stampede spoke exclusively with Global News Friday, addressing the lawsuit.

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“Unfortunately there’s allegations that we have no knowledge of and we have no details of,” Warren Connell said.

CEO of the Calgary Stampede, Warren Connell, spoke to Global News about the lawsuit Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. Global News

The lawsuit goes on to claim:

“The Young Canadians failed to adequately investigate Heerema’s conduct, failed to supervise Heerema adequately or at all, and failed to protect the class members from Heerema.”

Connell refutes those claims.

“What I can tell you is that when we did become aware, within a half hour of becoming aware, Mr. Heerema was escorted off of Stampede Park and we launched an investigation.”

READ MORE: ‘I feel like a monster,’ ex-Young Canadian Philip Heerema told investigator in videotaped interview

Heerema, 55, is currently on trial, accused of 20 offences, including sexual assault and making child pornography. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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There are eight former Young Canadians named in the criminal case, which involves allegations dating back to 1992 and continuing to 2014.

The Calgary Police Service said its investigation began in January 2014. Heerema was arrested and charged in June 2015.

The lawsuit alleges following Heerema’s resignation from The Young Canadians, one of the complainants became aware that a former teacher with the organization had posted about the allegations on social media.

It stated the teacher “posted on her Instagram account that she and another faculty member of The Young Canadians had previously advised The Young Canadians that Heerema’s conduct toward students was inappropriate.

“This post on Instagram also stated that The Young Canadians did not take any steps to address the faculty’s concerns at that time.”

Connell said he is aware of the Instagram post.

“I’ve heard of that, absolutely, also heard that it was immediately removed,” he said. “It would only be speculation on my part to guess why it was put up in the first place or why it was taken down immediately.”

A source has told Global News concerns about inappropriate behaviour were raised years before any action was taken.

“What I would say is that if there is any information out there, that those people should go immediately and directly to the authorities,” Connell said. “There’s a criminal case going on right now. I’m sure the authorities are interested in that information.”

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The lawsuit also claims some of the abuse was preventable:

“The Young Canadians could have taken the appropriate remedial steps to protect the class members… thus preventing further inappropriate conduct and abuse.”

It states beyond being notified of possible abuse, officials should have been aware of the misconduct based on rumours and warning signs.

“I can absolutely tell you that I was not aware of any rumours, but I can also tell you that when the organization found out, we did act swiftly and immediately,” Connell said.

The dollar amount of the proposed class-action lawsuit will be determined by the court.

The Stampede confirmed no statement of defence has yet been filed on its behalf. The Court of Queen’s Bench said there is no statement of defence filed by Heerema.

None of the allegations made in the statement of claim have been proven in court. The court must certify that the case is to proceed as a class action. If the court does not approve, the complainant can proceed on his own.

The criminal trial will resume Jan. 23 with another seven former Young Canadians scheduled to testify.

The prosecution alleges Heerema used his position with The Young Canadians to commit sexual offences against eight boys.


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