In the two weeks since the Calgary Stampede accepted liability in a class-action lawsuit that alleged the organization allowed an adult staffer to sexually abuse boys for years, no sponsors have publicly broken ranks and announced a departure.
CTV News reached out to all 37 companies listed as sponsors of the Stampede on the organization’s website.
All companies were asked a series of questions, including:
Does Stampede’s delayed handling of the reported abuse conflict with internal polices?;
Does your organization plan to continue as a sponsor?; and
Has your organization spoken with Stampede directly about safety and reporting protocols?
The majority of sponsors did not reply in any way.
Four declined comment until the lawsuit is completely resolved, while four others issued statements.
University of Toronto marketing professor David Soberman says there is a real hazard for all companies involved.
He says the companies involved are almost certainly have discussions about the future of their sponsorship behind closed doors.
“It creates a lot of negative associations for people, and when people think of the Calgary Stampede, all they want (them) to think of is positive things,” Soberman said.
“The sponsors that are behind the Calgary Stampede themselves, they’re doing market research, they’re, in some sense, taking the temperature of people’s feelings.
“If I was a sponsor, I would say, ‘I would like to know what you’re doing, and I’ll give you my opinion on it. I’m not going to tell you what we’re going to do, but I want to know what you’re doing,'” Soberman said.
“If the Stampede has been smart, they would actually say what they’re doing and they would also ask for feedback.”
The question of liability and the facts of the case are resolved and no longer before the courts.
The Stampede says it took action in 2014 after a police investigation was started, but uncontested evidence presented in court shows reports of abuse and inappropriate contact involving Phillip Heerema were passed on to senior managers dating back to 1988.
In 2018, Heerema pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child pornography and luring. He is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence. Those offences cover the years 2005 to 2014 and 1992.
The court is still working on a settlement with victims and is scheduled to resolve financial penalties at the end of September.
WHAT WE HEARD BACK
Of the 37 companies contacted by CTV News, the four that declined to comment until all legal matters are settled were Burnco, CN Rail, Wrangler (Kontoor Brands) and WCD Printers.
The four companies who did provide statements include Bell (the parent company of CTV News), Alberta Boot Company, Enbridge and Homes by Avi.
None of the four said they were going to pull future sponsorship, but all expressed concerns and support for victims of abuse.
“We are concerned about the ongoing reports around the Calgary Stampede. Bell is committed to fostering a safe and supportive work environment and we expect our partners to share these same values. We look forward to the Stampede’s actions to address those who have been impacted,” reads the statement from Bell.
“Enbridge condemns abusive behaviour and shares in the concern for those impacted. Our sponsorship is directed specifically toward the Elbow River Camp, which celebrates indigenous history and culture and recognized the rich heritage and contributions of the Treaty 7 Nations,” said Enbridge.
“That said, we acknowledge the tragedy that has occurred and support any efforts to both ensure an appropriate outcome for the victims and prevent this from happening again.”
“Alberta Boot carefully evaluates all of our partnerships and sponsorships annually and ensures that our values align with our partners. We take the safety and security of our employees seriously and are proud to operate with integrity and trust. As a private company, we cannot disclose the details of our partnerships,, but we remain committed to operating in the best interests of our customers and employees,” said Alberta Boot in a statement.
The sponsors that did not respond include Cowboys, Cenovus, Enmax, Nutrien, Lammle’s, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, GMC, Suncor, ATCO, Brandt, Ovintiv, Polaris, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Calgary Herald/Postmedia, Tim Horton’s, Monster Energy, Worley, Rocky Mountain Equipment, Fluor, Pivotal Energy Partners, Smithbilt Hats, Plains Midstream, Motts Clamato, Bennett Jones and VOG App Developers.
Stampede has shared a two-page document listing all the steps it has taken to prevent a similar situation from happening again, including security features on site and policies around interactions between adult and youth participants.
There is also a confidential reporting platform that is shared with the board every month.
LEGAL AND MORAL REQUIREMENTS
Karen Orser of the Luna Child and Youth Advocacy Centre says that most organizations understand the legal and moral requirements. She says it starts with having good trust relationships with adults and believing anyone who comes forward.
“When children report, you are required to report. Suspicions of child abuse also, there is a legal obligation to report when you suspect a child is being abused,” Orser says.
“There is an obligation to report disclosures of abuse you report to children services there’s a child abuse hotline you can report to Children and Family Services. There’s lots of options for reporting, and they all come to the same place.”