File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS The sign at the Calgary Courts Centre in Calgary is shown. A former longtime employee of the Young Canadians performance group is on trial on 22 child sex abuse charges.

‘Naked time:’ Trial hears former Young Canadians worker wanted student photos

CALGARY — The trial of a former longtime employee of a performance group that entertains each year at the Calgary Stampede has heard that the accused would ask students to send him naked photos and was hoping for more “naked time” with them.

Philip Heerema, 55, pleaded not guilty to 20 charges Monday at the beginning of a trial on counts that include sexual assault, luring and child pornography.

Police began investigating in January 2014 after they received a complaint from a student and his parents of an inappropriate relationship with a “person of authority” in The Young Canadians troupe.

“The charges in this case are serious,” said Crown prosecutor Martha O’Connor in her opening remarks.

“The Crown alleges that the accused, Philip Heerema, used his position as the business administrator of The Young Canadians School of Performing Arts … to commit sexual offences against the young people who were all at one time students at the performing arts school.”

After the initial complaint was made, another seven males came forward, who were all between 15 and 18 years old at the time of the alleged offences, O’Connor said.

Some 17 months later, in June 2015, police laid charges against Heerema.

Calgary police Det. Paul Ralstin conducted a lengthy interview with Heerema in which the officer questioned a number of social media exchanges between the accused and some of his alleged victims. In one, which Ralstin read, Heerema complimented the recipient on “working on your body” and “just looking great.”

Another one referred to photos as “our special secret.”

“I consider you a friend, even perhaps a little brother,” it read. “And now you have someone to share your art, playful, creativity photos with. On tour you can just come visit my room and pose in person.”

“We’re seeing classic pedophile behaviour. It’s grooming. It’s complimentary. It builds on their ego but then also keeps you in control,” said Ralstin. “And you knew it was wrong. There were little messages: Don’t share this. Just delete these messages.”

Ralstin said the messages were from what he called “Friendship Phil” and then “Creepy Phil.”

“I’ll be happy to push you in your limits. I’ll also pretend I’m going to bed with you and you can be completely open with me. You can sing into my eyes next. Come sleep over and soak in the hot tub. I need to take care of you,” read another message.

“Ah. Next naked time. Naked time, reflex, breathing — all soon. Wish we could have done something more.”

At one point in the interview, Heerema, who indicated he was told not to say anything without talking to his lawyer, said: “It’s painful.”

He said he would have been considered to be a person in authority at The Young Canadians and added he had “never threatened any of them.”

The alleged assaults occurred between 1992 and 2013. Police seized a number of computers, an iPhone and other electronic devices from Heerema’s office at the Calgary Stampede and from his home.

O’Connor said Heerema resigned from the Calgary Stampede when the charges came to light in February 2014.

The Young Canadians school works with 120 students between 11 and 18 from the Calgary area. It offers them a chance to train in dance, voice and performance in a professional environment throughout the year.

Training culminates in a performance for an international audience of more than 150,000 at the Calgary Stampede’s grandstand show every July.

Heerema had been listed on the school’s website as business administrator and production services co-ordinator when he resigned. A cached profile from the troupe’s website says he worked in many areas, including costuming, props, sets and lighting.

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