Former Young Canadian staffer Philip Heerema is facing a 10-year prison term for sexually abusing six teenage boys.
The Crown and defence made the joint sentencing submission on Tuesday morning, but the judge has reserved handing down a sentence.
Heerema pleaded guilty in January to eight charges, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, making child pornography and luring.
Four victim impact statements were read in court on Tuesday, including two read by the mother of one of the victims, and two read by the prosecutor.
“Heerema was obviously a very skilled hunter,” the mother said in court.
“My son’s life has been devastated by Philip Heerema.”
Her son was the first victim to go forward to police.
“Right now he regrets becoming involved because he feels like his life has been ruined,” she said. “There was life before Phil when my son planned a bright future…then there’s life after Phil.”
Her son wrote in his statement it makes him angry that he was forced to testify in a preliminary inquiry and during the trial.
“If Phil had just admitted to his wrongdoing,” he said.
The case involves six victims, all former members of the Calgary Stampede’s performance group, The Young Canadians. The teenage boys were between the ages of 15 and 17 when the abuse happened. The earliest offence happened over 20 years ago, which was one count of sexual assault.
Heerema, 55, pleaded guilty on Jan. 30, 2018—which was mid-trial.
The earliest offence happened in 1992, which was one count of sexual assault.
Heerema admitted he was in a position of authority and also admitted he “abused his position of trust and authority.”
Graphic details of abuse were outlined in an agreed statement of facts and read in court by the prosecutor.
In several cases, Heerema requested naked photos of the young students, while in other cases, he requested the teens masturbate in front of him.
In one case, Heerema then masturbated in front of the victim and called it a “masturbating contest.”
Court heard Heerema would perform what he called “check-ups” under the guise of discussing the teens’ workout programs. Heerema would make the boys strip naked and touched their genitals. In one case, the boy received payment for the “check-up.”
Heerema also admitted to discussing one teen’s body insecurities with him, offering to “rate” his buttocks if the teen would send him a naked picture.
Court heard he rated the photo a six out of 10. On another occasion, Heerema kissed the teen on the neck.
Heerema originally pleaded not guilty to 20 charges on the first day of the trial. There were eight former Young Canadians originally named in the case.
Defence for Heerema asked for a psych report prior to sentencing.
At the end of the sentencing hearing, Heerema read a lengthy written statement to the court.
In it, he outlined his life story, which included work at the Stampede following the 2013 flood. He told court he “waded in the water and put that show back on stage.”
He said he has remorse and shame for his actions.
“I stand before you a man who made unbelievably bad decisions.”
He then looked at the family of one of his victims and said, “I’m sorry. I pray that God will heal you…and that he will give you peace.”
He concluded by telling the judge his sentence, “will be the will of my father in heaven.”
Justice Larry Ackerl will hand down his sentence Wednesday at 9 a.m.
Stampede says it has committed to new policies
Following the guilty pleas, Calgary Stampede CEO Warren Connell reacted to the detailed accounts of abuse revealed in court.
“I am very saddened to hear those details, obviously,” Connell said in a previous interview. “We highly respect those individuals who came forward…and the toll that it must have taken.”
Much of the abuse Heerema admitted to happened in one-on-one meetings with the teens. Connell said he hopes new policies will protect young performers going forward.
Stampede officials said changes have been made to the performing arts studios, including “state-of-the-art security features, such as video surveillance, electronically controlled access points and see-through glass doors on all rooms and offices.”