Teen testifies he felt 'ashamed' after sending nude photo to ex-Young Canadians staffer Philip Heerema
Heerema, 55, is on trial on 20 sexual abuse charges involving young men who were teenagers at the time
He was a 16-year-old performer for The Young Canadians when he says his friend and mentor — a man in his 50s — asked for nude photos. But almost immediately after complying with Philip Heerema's request, the student says he felt "ashamed."
"I didn't want Phil to get in trouble but I was very uncomfortable and I didn't feel safe at The Young Canadians when he was there," said the witness, who can not be identified under a publication ban.
The whistleblower responsible for reporting the former employee to Calgary police testified on Day 3 of Philip Heerema's sexual abuse trial Tuesday.
Heerema, 55, is on trial on sexual abuse charges involving eight young men who were teenage performers with the organization at the time of the alleged offences. The charges include sexual assault, child pornography and luring.
The Young Canadians is a performance group made up of high-school students who perform in the Calgary Stampede grandstand show every year. Heerema was with The Young Canadians for 36 years, beginning when he was a teenage performer and later as an employee.
The witness who testified Tuesday is now a 20-year-old university student. He came forward to police in January 2014 after telling his parents about the photo exchange.
The two became close over the 2013 Christmas break but their friendship turned sexual, according to the witness. He said Heerema began to compliment his appearance before asking for a photo of his genitals.
"He asked me to send pictures without underwear on so that he could see what was underneath," said the witness.
"I remember almost immediately feeling major regrets for having done that."
Heerema faces charges of luring as well as making and accessing child pornography in connection with Tuesday's witness.
'I felt so unsafe'
The young man said he was "very scared and nervous about the situation," and didn't know how to handle it, knowing he would have to face Heerema again after the Christmas break.
Once back at the performance school, he says, Heerema called him into a backroom where he was told they could "have fun and explore our friendship."
Feeling "completely trapped," the student says he was depressed, fearful he had no way out of the situation. Afterward, he says he didn't know whom he could trust.
"I was very wary about who to trust at The Young Canadians and the Calgary Stampede," said the witness.
"I felt so unsafe and uncomfortable there."
Both the accused and the Calgary Stampede Foundation are being sued by an unnamed plaintiff and other former performers who allege The Young Canadians failed to properly investigate Heerema and had knowledge of his "inappropriate conduct."
Heerema 'projected a lot of power and control'
Eventually, the teen told his parents who brought him to police. That disclosure led to an 18-month investigation during which officers identified more complainants. Heerema was eventually charged in June 2015.
The witness also detailed Heerema's responsibilities with the performance school. He said the accused was involved in almost every aspect of training, trips and performances. Heerema sat in on auditions, organized and chaperoned trips to Disneyland, was responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the studio and had many more roles during performances, according to the witness.
The witness said he felt Heerema was "the most important individual in the program" and that he "projected a lot of power and control" in the school's spaces.
"My perception when I was in the program was that The Young Canadians school would never operate without Phil."
Defence lawyer Allan Fay has not yet had a chance to cross examine the witness.
Last week, the prosecution called a witness who was 17 years old in 1992. He alleged Heerema slid his hands down his pants days before he left for college on his 18th birthday.
During a police interview after his arrest in 2015, Heerema told the detective he struggled with his sexuality since he was a teen and said he "never meant anyone harm."
"I felt like I was responding to them and it was going both ways… I feel like a monster, I feel like a horrible human being," said Heerema.
The trial before Court of Queen's Bench Justice Larry Ackerl is set for three more weeks.