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Canada  

Not guilty 'naked time' plea

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."

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.



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