Calgary

'Morally despicable' former Young Canadians staffer sentenced to 10 years for teen sex abuses

Both the judge and the mother of one of Philip Heerema's young victims expressed skepticism that the former employee of a Calgary performance school sincerely repents sex offences against six teen victims as he was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison.

Warning: This story contains sexually explicit details

Philip Heerema, seen leaving court in January, downplays his offences, Court of Queen's Bench Judge Larry Ackerl said in sentencing him Wednesday to 10 years in prison. (James Young/CBC)

Both the judge and the mother of one of Philip Heerema's young victims expressed skepticism that the former employee of a Calgary performance school sincerely repents sex offences against six teen victims as he was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison.

Court of Queen's Bench Judge Larry Ackerl, in delivering the sentence jointly recommended by the Crown and defence on Tuesday, said he hoped Heerema would seek counselling that was recommended by a doctor. 

But the judge said Heerema downplays his offences, questioning whether he is remorseful for his actions. 

"His calculated conduct was morally despicable and ultimately criminal," said Ackerl.

Heerema was employed for years with The Young Canadians, who perform in the Calgary Stampede grandstand show every year. In January, he pleaded guilty mid-trial to eight offences including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child pornography and luring. 

Ackerl also cited the prolonged period of time over which the offences occurred. One offence dates back to 1992, while the others span a nine-year period from 2005 to 2014.

The 55-year-old admitted during his trial to using his position with the youth performance school to turn his friendships with the senior male singers and dancers into sexual relationships. 

The identities of the victims are protected under a publication ban.

Victim's family unhappy with sentence

The mother of one of the victims said she isn't happy with the sentence or with Heerema's actions in court.

Yesterday, his apology was not genuine. He never once said, 'I am sorry' to the children.'- Mother of one of Heerema's young victims

"Yesterday, his apology was not genuine. He never once said, 'I am sorry' to the children. He never said, 'I am sorry for what I have done,'" the mother, who also cannot be identified because of the publication ban, told reporters at the courthouse. 

"What he said is, 'I am sorry for the choices I've made' and he made it sound like he was taken down a path by the children and that he went willingly with them. He did not accept responsibility for the fact that he lured them."

Family angry that Heerema dragged victim through courts

She said she was angry that Heerema knew he was guilty, but didn't admit his crimes right away and dragged the victims into the courts. 

"I know, for my son in particular, the preliminary inquiry was absolutely brutal," she said. "It was devastating to him."

...For my son in particular, the preliminary inquiry was absolutely brutal. It was devastating to him.- Mother angry that Heerema dragged victim through court before pleading guilty

The mother said her son is depressed, has dropped out of university and is living at home for support. 

"The judge said, 'May you sing, may you dance,' he commented to the kids. My son was in the Young Canadians and it was his whole life. He got up in the morning, he loved singing and dancing. He pirouetted around our house and he sang all the time. He doesn't sing and he doesn't dance anymore."

Heerema's crimes are outlined in an agreed statement of facts. 

Convinced students to strip, masturbate as 'workout plan'

In one instance, Heerema requested photos of a student's tan lines while he was on vacation with his family and received them. In another he requested and received nude photos.

Heerema also convinced a student to masturbate in front of him under the pretext of a "workout plan."

In that last example, Heerema also admitted to surreptitiously filming one of the masturbation sessions, leading to the child pornography charge.

In another case, Heerema told a student that he had to exercise naked in front of him so that he could set up a workout plan. He then continued to ask the student to work out naked in order to track his progress.

During these sessions, Heerema would poke and prod the student, touching him under the pretext of evaluating his muscle development.

Pressured students not to tell or break off contact

When the Young Canadians were planning a trip to Disneyland, Heerema texted that student to say once they got there, they could have a masturbation contest to see who could ejaculate first, according to the statement.

Once there, Heerema initiated that contest.

Things escalated from there to include mutual oral sex sessions. At one point Heerema penetrated the student with his finger.

Heerema also insinuated himself into the student's personal life and made him feel guilty about breaking off contact.

The statement of facts highlight how Heerema would prepare targeted students, warming them up by contacting them under the guise of professional development or as a friend and mentor.

He would then escalate the conversations and would use pressure to convince them not to come forward if they were second-guessing the conversations or encounters.

'Young Canadian family' failed to support victim, mother says

Prior to the sentencing, the CEO of the Calgary Stampede, Warren Connell, spoke with the Calgary Eyeopener and said the Stampede ensured there were resources available for family and youth in the wake of the accusations against Heerema.

But the mother of the victim, speaking to reporters, said she was angry with the reaction of "The Young Canadian family, as they like to call themselves."

Young Canadian family made my son "feel like he was an awful person that he had the nerve to make these kinds of accusations against the great Phil Heerema."- Mother of one of the victims

"The majority of the Young Canadian family stood behind Phil," she said.

They made her son "feel like he was an awful person that he had the nerve to make these kinds of accusations against the great Phil Heerema," she said.

"Maybe now that this is coming out, finally, he'll start to be accepted. Maybe people will realize that he didn't make anything up, but he has not been embraced and supported in any way by the Young Canadian community."

Connell said the new facilities for the Young Canadians have security cameras and windows in rooms as part of an effort to thwart future incidents. 

With files from Lucie Edwardson

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