CALGARY — A man who says he was sexually assaulted by a former longtime employee of a young people’s performance group testified Tuesday that Philip Heerema was like the CEO of the troupe and the man felt “completely trapped” after exchanging naked pictures with him.
Heerema, 55, is on trial facing 20 charges that include sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child pornography and luring. The alleged encounters are believed to have occurred at The Young Canadians School of Performing Arts in Calgary between 1992 and 2013 with male students between 15 and 18 years old.
“I would describe him as the most important individual in the program,” the witness, now in his 20s, told the trial. “My perception when I was in the program was The Young Canadians school … could never exist without Phil.
“He projected an attitude like he was kind of the CEO of The Young Canadians and that he was in charge and that he was in control of the operations. He projected a lot of power and control in all our spaces.”
The man, who spent seven years as a member of The Young Canadians, told court that Heerema had become friendlier around Christmas 2013 and the two exchanged Facebook messages. Early on Jan. 1, 2014, the man said he got a new year’s greeting from Heerema who asked him to exchange pictures.
The first one the man sent showed his torso to mid-thigh wearing a pair of grey underwear with skulls.
“He sent a message back to indicate he wanted to see what was underneath my underwear. Then I pulled down my underwear and took another picture and sent it to him,” he said. “There were at least two that explicitly depicted my penis.”
The witness said he immediately regretted what he did, and deleted the photos and messages later that day.
“I was ashamed and felt it was something wrong.”
When he went back to school, he tried to avoid both Heerema’s messages and Heerema, he said. Then he was called into the office.
“He said he’s been worried that I’ve been so unresponsive over Facebook messenger and that he was worried he’d have police knocking at his door and that he hoped everything was OK,” the witness said.
Heerema held his hand and told him he wanted to continue chatting over Facebook and exchanging pictures without needing to take the relationship further, the man testified. He told court he nodded in agreement and left the room as soon as possible.
“I was very upset because I felt I was completely trapped in the situation,” he said. ”I couldn’t talk to anyone about what was happening because then Phil would presumably get in trouble and that wouldn’t be good for anyone.”
He eventually told a family member what had happened and went to police.
The school works with students between 11 and 18 years old in dance, voice and performance. Training culminates in grandstand shows during the Calgary Stampede every July.
Heerema spent 36 years with The Young Canadians. He started out as a performer and took on a number of jobs that included costuming, props, sets and lighting.