Mayor Jyoti Gondek did her best to distance the city from the Calgary Stampede on Tuesday, responding to comments from MP George Chahal calling for all levels of government to pause funding for the organization, which last week reached a partial settlement in a class-action lawsuit over the sexual abuse of boys in its performance school.
Chahal reiterated the statements he made on Monday at a Tuesday news conference, which included the mayor.
“Calgary Stampede is not a wholly owned subsidiary or any kind of city partner with the city, they have a separate board, they have a separate leadership team — that leadership team last week accepted accountability for what happened,” said Gondek.
“We need to make sure we’re taking victims seriously. The first time someone steps up and says this has happened to me, whoever the individual is on the receiving end of it needs to act. All of our organizations need to understand that, especially when it’s a child.”
The Calgary-Skyview MP repeated his calls for accountability from the Stampede and justice for the victims.
“The Stampede needs to be transparent of what happened over two decades and the impact on those seven victims. I’m glad to see that they’re moving forward so that we can work with them and the other orders of government to ensure that full transparency and accountability is there to ensure that the victims can have justice and reconciliation.”
Province won’t halt $6M in annual funding to Stampede
A partial settlement was reached in a class-action lawsuit alleging the Stampede allowed Philip Heerema to use his position at the Young Canadians School of Performing Arts to groom and abuse boys. Heerema is now serving a 10-year sentence.
The Stampede issued a statement to Postmedia on Tuesday saying the matter remains before the courts and it is “working diligently to achieve agreement with the victims. We hope the outcome will help the victims and their families begin to heal.”
The Stampede has also released the results of its Youth Safety Overview to put better policies and supports in place, to improve cultural transparency, and compliance reporting and monitoring.
“The Calgary Stampede has implemented many measures over the past nine years to ensure the safety and wellness of our youth participants and to guard against anything similar ever happening again.”
The city did not provide direct funding to the Calgary Stampede in its most recent budget, but often works with the organization on various services. The federal government also does not provide ongoing funding to the Stampede, but gave $14 million in grants to the organization during COVID-19 — including $10 million in 2022 — when it was unable to run due to public health orders.
The province grants Stampede about $6 million a year and, on Friday, Premier Danielle Smith said it would continue.
The Stampede has an annual year-round economic effect on the city of $520 million, and this year came just short of setting new attendance records with 1,384,632 people attending the 10-day event.
The Stampede is the latest organization to find itself embroiled in scandal of this nature. Hockey Canada and Gymnastics Canada, among other organizations, were under fire over the past year for covering up sexual-abuse allegations. Both organizations have lost government funding and sponsors, and both have seen sweeping overhauls of their executive wings.
Commonwealth Games bid still on the table
While Chahal took a strong stand against the Calgary Stampede, the MP said he’s supportive of a joint Calgary, Edmonton and Tsuut’ina Nation bid for the 2030 Commonwealth Games.
The future of the bid was put in question two weeks ago when Sydney, Australia, announced it had withdrawn from hosting the 2026 Games due to a budget that had ballooned from an initial $2.6-billion estimate to $7 billion.
The Alberta bid committee said it will need to ensure a cost-efficient, inclusive and sustainable legacy.
“I’m a big sporting advocate,” said Chahal. “I know the importance of sport for children and families, and I’m going to make sure that if the city wants it that we’ll do everything we can to support our local bid to make sure that our children and future generations have an opportunity to have great infrastructure and facilities, but also participate in sport.”
Partial settlement reached in lawsuit against Calgary Stampede over abuse of boys
From 2018: Former Young Canadians official pleads guilty to sexually assaulting troupe members
Class-action suit expands against Stampede, Young Canadians official convicted of sexual assault
Australia Commonwealth Games cancellation spurs questions for Alberta 2030 bid
He added the Games are also a great way to attract talent and business to the city and showcase Calgary to the world.
The mandate letter for Alberta Sports and Tourism Minister Joseph Schow instructs the minister to develop a policy “to ensure future international gaming bids using substantial provincial taxpayer dollars are subject to transparent public disclosure requirements and cost/benefit analysis, and include mandatory referenda for affected communities when appropriate.”
The mayor noted the bid committee is a community-based group and that community buy-in would be required to move forward.
“Those conversations are still taking place,” she said. “No decisions have been made, no funding agreements have been put in place. I look forward to getting an update.”
— With files from The Canadian Press, Rob Breakenridge, Postmedia