MindGeek Canada managing director Feras Antoon appears on screen during a sound check as he waits to appear virtually before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on Friday, Feb. 5, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

More than 70 lawmakers call for criminal investigation of MindGeek

More than 70 lawmakers call for criminal investigation of MindGeek

OTTAWA — More than 70 parliamentarians from all parties are calling for a full criminal investigation into Pornhub’s parent company following testimony from survivors.

The demand, spelled out in a letter Monday to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, comes two weeks after a similar request by more than 100 victims of exploitive content they say was posted to websites owned by MindGeek.

The lawmakers cite recent evidence by victims and child-protection organizations alleging the Montreal-based company regularly shared child pornography and sexual assault videos as well as content shot or posted without the consent of subjects.

“Even more alarming, we have heard evidence that MindGeek continues to make available material featuring child sexual abuse material and non-consensual acts, as one survivor testified to the ethics committee on Feb. 19, 2021: ‘Thanks to Pornhub, today is day 1,292 that I have been naked on these porn sites,’” the letter states.

MindGeek has denied all accusations of wrongdoing, saying it is a global leader in preventing distribution of exploitive videos and images.

“MindGeek has zero tolerance for non-consensual content, child sexual abuse material (CSAM), and any other content that lacks the consent of all parties depicted,” the company said in an email this month.

“The harrowing stories of the survivors of CSAM and non-consensual imagery shake us to our core.”

In December, several major credit card companies suspended payment services to Pornhub, prompting the world’s largest pornography platform to scrub some 10 million videos posted by unverified users.

At least five lawsuits have been filed against the company in the U.S. and Canada over the past year on behalf of survivors of child abuse, sex trafficking and non-consensual image uploads.

The 53 MPs and 20 senators who signed the letter accuse MindGeek of failing to report cases of child pornography to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection and the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children between 2011 and 2020. The company confirmed in an email it “officially began” reporting to the latter early last year.

The signatories say they were “shocked” to learn from RCMP deputy commissioner Stephen White at the House of Commons ethics committee last month that the agency had “zero outstanding investigations” into the company.

Conservative MP Arnold Viersen, who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group to end human trafficking, says the hoops survivors have to jump through to get illegal content pulled down are “egregious,” and that existing laws need more rigorous enforcement.

“The law is good, it’s just purely not being enforced,” he said Monday in an interview, adding that he is open to expanding the provisions against sexual exploitation.

In December, the House of Commons ethics committee launched a study on how to protect the privacy and reputations of people who appear on pornography websites following an explosive New York Times opinion piece alleging Pornhub distributed child pornography. A report with recommendations to Parliament is expected later this year.

In a March 1 letter, a group of 104 survivors and 525 NGOs in countries ranging from Austria to Zambia applauded the ethics committee for studying the issue.

The coalition went beyond calling on Ottawa to encourage an RCMP investigation, demanding the government to take “immediate legislative and regulatory action to protect children from this predatory and unethical corporation.”

MindGeek draws 170 million visitors a day, including four million Canadians, and generates $460 million in annual revenue, according to the company. It frequently ranks among the dozen most-visited sites in the world, ahead of Netflix and Zoom.

Though legally headquartered in Luxembourg, the company’s main office sits in a squat glass building along a sunken highway in Montreal.

“We have on our territory probably the biggest platform, the most successful platform, in porn, and laws apply,” Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne, who co-chairs the parliamentary group on human trafficking, said Monday in an interview.

“It’s pretty appalling that we seem to be nowhere in terms of actions by the police against Pornhub.”

MindGeek has pushed back against accusations it allows child sexual abuse material on its sites.

“Over the past year, MindGeek has created and implemented comprehensive measures for verification, moderation, and detection that will ensure Pornhub is the safest platform online. Notably, we have taken the unprecedented step of banning content from unverified uploaders, an industry first among tech and social media platforms,” MindGeek said in an email earlier this month.

The platform works with dozens of non-profit organizations that aim to flag content and stop online child exploitation. It also says it uses extensive measures to shut out such material, including “a vast team” of human moderators to manually review each of the 6.8 million videos uploaded annually and remove illegal material, along with automated detection technologies.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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