Montreal Gazette

Abuser's parole alarms accuser

`Looking over my shoulder'

- BILL GRAVELAND

CALGARY • A former member of a youth performanc­e group run by the Calgary Stampede says he expects he'll feel on guard now that day parole has been granted to the man who sexually abused teens over three decades.

The decision from the Parole Board of Canada last month came as a shock to the accuser, who had been scheduled to testify before Phillip Heerema pleaded guilty partway through his trial in 2018.

“I feel like I will always be looking over my shoulder,” said the man, whose name is protected by a publicatio­n ban. “The whole thing makes me feel sick to my stomach.”

Heerema pleaded guilty to eight charges, including sexual assault, luring and making child pornograph­y while he was at the Young Canadians School of Performing Arts. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The six victims were male students between 15 and 17, who were at the school between 1992 and 2013. Heerema admitted to using his position to lure and groom the boys into sexual relationsh­ips.

The school, operated by the Calgary Stampede Foundation, puts on nightly grandstand shows during the Stampede.

HE'S GOING TO LIVE IN THE CITY THAT HE OFFENDED IN FOR 30 YEARS.

Heerema was granted day parole from a B.C. prison on the condition he reside at a halfway house in Calgary. None of his accusers attended the hearing and some have said they weren't informed it had been scheduled.

“We're disappoint­ed. There have been quite a few victims that have come forward who are based in Calgary,” said the accuser.

“It's surprising he's going to live in the city that he offended in for 30 years.”

Heerema told the board he was self-centred, selfish and ashamed of being bisexual. He said he knew he could control and manipulate boys into keeping the abuse secret.

The board asked him if there are more victims who didn't come forward.

“I believe there probably are more victims,” Heerema said. After prodding from a panel member, he added: “I know that there are.”

After a class-action lawsuit was filed by about three dozen complainan­ts, the Stampede admitted to negligence and breach of duty. Earlier this month, the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede and the Calgary Stampede Foundation agreed to pay $9.5 million in damages.

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