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Calgary Stampede banned from Pride parade 'for the foreseeable future'

A photo of Calgary's 2023 Pride parade shows people marching downtown. The Calgary Stampede said it understands and respects concerns raised following its participation in last year's Pride parade. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)
A photo of Calgary's 2023 Pride parade shows people marching downtown. The Calgary Stampede said it understands and respects concerns raised following its participation in last year's Pride parade. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)

The Calgary Stampede has been banned from participating in this year's Pride parade because of the decades of abuse some members of the community experienced at the hands of a former performing arts school staffer.

Philip Heerema pleaded guilty partway through his trial in 2018 to eight charges, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, luring and making child pornography while he was at the Young Canadians School of Performing Arts.

The six victims were male students ages 15 to 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 annual Stampede.

Heerema had been granted day parole earlier this year and was scheduled to return to Calgary. He admitted at his hearing there are other victims who didn't come forward.

"We were made aware by individuals in our community of the abuse they experienced as youth with the Young Canadians and how their participation in the parade negatively impacted them," said Anna Kinderwater, communications manager with Calgary Pride.

"After an investigation spanning several months, we provided ample notice to Calgary Stampede declining their involvement in our parade for the foreseeable future, with accompanying suggestions for change and repair to improve their standing with us and the community."

Kinderwater said the ban isn't necessarily permanent. During discussions, she said, it was determined the survivors need to feel empowered to come forward and receive apologies and reparations.

"It's imperative for Calgary Stampede to publicly recognize the steps taken to address these concerns and ensure community safety for the future," Kinderwater said.

That could include supporting initiatives for survivors of sexual violence to rebuild trust and ensure inclusivity.

"We invite the Calgary Stampede to engage in constructive dialogue and demonstrate their commitment to becoming stronger allies to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community," Kinderwater said.

"We value their involvement in the Calgary Pride parade and remain hopeful for meaningful progress."

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

Concerns raised after last year's parade

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Heerema, who came forward with his own allegations in 2013, had written a letter to Calgary Pride last year complaining about the Stampede's involvement.

"I was absolutely beside myself last year when I saw the Stampede walking in the parade so soon after accepting full liability for what occurred for decades. Many of us are members of the LGBTQ+ community," he told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.

"I am pleased with Calgary Pride's decision to stand with survivors of child sexual violence and ban the Calgary Stampede from walking in the Pride parade. Calgary Pride is a time to celebrate progress, and the Stampede's presence was merely lip service."

In an email to CBC News, the Calgary Stampede said it understands and respects the concerns raised following its participation in last year's parade and plans to work with Calgary Pride on addressing them within the community.

"The Calgary Stampede supports the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and we marched in the 2023 Pride parade to show that support," the statement reads.

"We will continue to show our support whether it's at our annual Pride Day at Nashville North, a future Pride parade or any other events that we are part of."

Calgary Pride said earlier this week that it will also not allow provincial and federal political parties or figures to walk in the parade scheduled for Sept. 1.