George Chahal, Member of Parliament for Calgary Skyview, has said he will be calling upon his colleagues in the federal government to end support for the Calgary Stampede.
In a statement issued on July 28, Chahal said that he was making the call following the Calgary Stampede following the settlement of a class action lawsuit against the Calgary Stampede.
“Yesterday’s admission of liability by the Calgary Stampede is not a sign of transparency or accountability. Rather, it is a testament to the lengths the organization was willing to go to sweep these horrific crimes under the rug,” said Chahal.
“It is beyond insulting to the survivors that the Stampede denied any wrongdoing for years, only to admit liability years later.”
The lawsuit, which was filed before the Court of Queen’s Bench in 2019, had alleged that male members of the Young Canadians had been sexually abused by former Young Canadians staffer Philip Heerema, and that the Stampede had failed to provide a safe environment free of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
Heerema was convicted and sentenced in 2018, to 10 years in prison for sexually exploitative acts against six members of the Young Canadians—acts that occurred between 1992 and 2014.
The Calgary Stampede Foundation, which runs the Young Canadians, the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede Limited, and the class action parties placed a settlement agreement to the lawsuit before the courts on July 26.
“With this settlement agreement, the Calgary Stampede takes responsibility and acknowledges that we should have known much sooner. For this, we are truly sorry,” said Joel Cowley, CEO of the Calgary Stampede.
“The lawsuit is still before the courts. The settlement is expected to reflect agreement with the victims and we hope that outcome will help the victims and their families begin to heal.”
Cowley said in a statement that the Stampede has already undertaken steps to protect youth involved with the Stampede, since 2014.
“While we can’t change the past, we remain committed to doing everything possible to guard against anything similar ever happening again and have taken many meaningful steps over the past nine years to enhance the safety and wellness of our youth participants,” Cowley said.
Chahal said that the Stampede must recognize that they have lost the trust of Calgarians. He unequivocally condemned the Stampede for what he said was years of inaction.
“It is not about enhancing their image or salvaging their brand; it is about ensuring justice, safety, and a commitment to never allowing such heinous acts to happen within their ranks again. Anything less is a disservice to the survivors and all of Calgary,” Chahal said.
The Stampede said that they have heard the concerns from the public, and from politicians.
“While we hear and respect the concerns raised about what Stampede knew and when, we took immediate action upon learning of the allegations in 2014,” said Cowley.
Chahal to speak to ministers about pulling future funding and support
Chahal in his statement said that federal funding should only be restored to the Stampede when victims feel that there has been accountability and reconciliation from the organization.
“Therefore, I will vehemently advocate to my colleagues in the federal government, that any future support for the Calgary Stampede be halted. Not a single taxpayer dollar should support an organization that has shown such blatant disregard for the well-being of our youth,” Chahal said.
His office responded to questions from LWC, saying that Chahal would be speaking to newly appointed cabinet ministers about future funding to the Stampede.
They said that Chahal believed that current agreements, including that of funding for the BMO Centre, should be honoured.
His office also clarified what sort of accountability he would like to see from the Stampede towards victims to see funding restored.
“MP Chahal believes that every victim’s experience and feelings are valid, and all perspectives should be part of the reconciliation process,” read their response.
“While it might be challenging to meet every individual’s expectation fully, the goal should be to ensure that there is a consensus that the Stampede has earnestly committed to change. We look forward to seeing how the process unfolds.”
Smith asks for more information from Young Canadians
Premier Danielle Smith, responding to media questions Friday in relation to Chahal’s statement, said that there is an absolute need to ensure that children are protected.
“I would say that the tragedy of what happened to the Young Canadians was well known. I think that we need to make sure that kids are protected,” she said.
“We have asked the Calgary Stampede and the Young Canadians to tell us what they have done over the years to make sure that children are not exploited or are victimized that way, and I look forward to their response.”
Smith said that the province would not be looking at ending funding or support for the Calgary Stampede, but that she was looking for specifics as to which protections were put in place.
“I can tell you what I hear from other youth groups: They have in place protocols to make sure that there is a criminal record check for anyone who is involved in direct contact with children, they have annual training for adults on how the proper way to interact with children, and they also have protocols to make sure that no child is ever alone in a room with an adult,” Premier Smith said.
“Those would be the kind of things I would be asking the Young Canadians to let us know so that they can address the issue.”
Alberta’s NDP leader Rachel Notley said that “full and clear accountability for the Stampede’s role in this abuse and resulting trauma is needed.”
“Our hearts go out to the 70 children and their families who were impacted by these horrific actions,” Notley said.
“The number of victims and the length of time over which this occurred is deeply troubling. The Calgary Stampede has enjoyed tremendous support from multiple levels of government and from all Calgarians.”
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that it was important that any victim that steps forward is listened to, especially when it involves young people.
“I am happy that accountability has been accepted by Calgary Stampede, and I can tell you that the board and leadership remain committed to make sure that this never happens again,” the mayor said.
“Every organization in this city, frankly, every organization society has a responsibility to make sure that we are protecting people that step forward to talk about tragedies that happened, and Calgary Stampede is no exception to them.”
She said that the measures put in place by the Stampede would be very carefully looked at by the city.