All levels of government must hold management of the Calgary Stampede to account over how it handled years of sexual abuse at a performance school it runs, says one of the city’s 10 members of Parliament.
“All levels of government have role to play to ensure that if any taxpayers dollars are (being granted), we ensure safeguards are in place,” George Chahal, a Liberal MP for Calgary Skyview, said in an interview Monday.
Neither municipal nor provincial governments have indicated there will financial implications for the world-famous rodeo and midway. The federal government has not provided ongoing funding to the Stampede, although during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 and 2022 it did provide $14 million in grants.
Last week, a partial settlement was reached in a class-action lawsuit alleging the Stampede allowed a staffer at its Young Canadians School of Performing Arts to groom and abuse boys. Phillip Heerema is serving a 10-year sentence for luring six boys into sexual relationships when he worked for the school.
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The abuse dates back to at least 1992. Joel Cowley, Calgary Stampede chief executive officer, has said the organization should have learned about and acted on allegations much earlier than it did.
Chahal said the Stampede’s expressions of remorse, while they may be sincere, are inadequate. The public deserves to know what happened and someone needs to be held accountable, he said.
“I’m focused on continuing to ensure that accountability is provided to the public and that this organization is being transparent, but also on reconciliation with the victims.”
The lawsuit is still before the courts. Damages are to be worked out later this summer, pending the approval of the settlement from a judge at an upcoming court date on Sept. 25.
Chahal is the only Alberta politician so far to directlycall for financial consequences for the Stampede.
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Ron Liepert, the only one of nine Calgary Conservative MPs to respond to a query from The Canadian Press on Monday, said Chahal is grandstanding.
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“(Chahal) knows how unpopular the Trudeau Liberals are in Alberta. He can’t defend their record so is looking for other issues to try and change the channel.”
Liepert said he has no evidence that the Stampede board has lost public trust.
On Friday, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said Stampede funding from the province’s United Conservative government would continue. Tanya Fir, Alberta’s minister of arts, culture and Status of Women, said she would meet with the Stampede to discuss the safety of youth involved with the festival.
The province grants the Stampede about $6 million a year.
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In a statement, provincial New Democrat Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said: “The Calgary Stampede has enjoyed tremendous support from multiple levels of government and from all Calgarians.
“A full and clear accountability for the Stampede’s role in this abuse and resulting trauma is needed.”
Also Friday, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said it was a “tragedy” the board didn’t act on the issue when it learned of it.
“I am happy that accountability has been accepted by the Calgary Stampede,” she told reporters.
She said council will look “very carefully” at whatever measures the Stampede puts in place to ensure such abuse never happens again.
Heritage Canada did not respond to requests for comment.
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