Skip to content

International women's rights advocates call on Canada to hold Pornhub to account

Jeanette Westbrook says being sexually abused as a child will haunt her for the rest of her life.

Jeanette Westbrook says being sexually abused as a child will haunt her for the rest of her life.

The perpetrators used eight-millimetre film, she said, but over time, abusers can transfer footage to the latest technology and continue to disseminate it.

"It's the type of crime that you can never get away from," Westbrook said. "Even after you're dead, it can still be viewed."

Westbrook is one of the women from around the world who joined NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus on Tuesday to call on Canada to apply existing laws to hold tech giants like Pornhub to account and stop the exploitation of women and children. 

The Canadian Press does not typically identify people who have experienced sexual violence, but Westbrook spoke at a news conference using her name.

Angus said the Liberals have failed to hold companies like MindGeek, the Montreal-based parent company of Pornhub, to their legal obligations regarding child abuse and non-consensual videos of sexual violence.

“We have some very robust legislation,” Angus said. “We just don’t seem to have any political willingness to use it.”

In April, the Liberal government announced it would introduce legislation to create a new regulator that will ensure online platforms remove harmful content, including depictions of children and intimate images that are shared without consent.

Last week, while discussing Bill C-10 which will revise the Broadcasting Act to regulate platforms like YouTube and Facebook, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault told a House committee that the bill will steer clear of content moderation, including for porn. He said the new regulator will handle child pornography and non-consensual material.

“God help the women in the world if they’re relying on Minister Guilbeault to protect them,” Angus said. “It’s not acceptable to come out and tell us, ‘Oh someday there will be a pornography regulator,’ we have laws. Apply the laws, do the right thing. Don’t give us this runaround.”

In a statement, Guilbeault's spokeswoman Camille Gagné-Raynauld said her department is extremely concerned that the safety of Canadians may be compromised on online platforms, especially when exploitative content is posted online without being systematically flagged and removed.

"We are looking forward to presenting a new framework that will ensure more accountability and transparency from online platforms," she said. "We want to ensure that online platforms have a proactive duty to monitor and remove illegal content before it causes further harm."

MindGeek did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication, but has previously denied all accusations of wrongdoing. The company has said it is a global leader in preventing the distribution of exploitative videos and images and has zero tolerance for non-consensual content or child sexual abuse material.

Angus said if there are elements of non-consensual abuse in videos the law exists to report them and for police to take action, but the RCMP shows an “unwillingness” to do so.

The RCMP denied this accusation in an emailed statement.

"We are committed to investigating these crimes to the fullest extent possible, and prosecuting those responsible," said RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Caroline Duval. "Additionally, we support greater action to address online sexual crimes, such as online child sexual exploitation and non-consensual distribution of sexual images."

Duval said the RCMP sought to discuss a Canadian law that makes reporting child abuse mandatory with MindGeek in 2018. The company informed the RCMP that, based on legal advice, it would be reporting to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States, she said.

This is because MindGeek, Duval said, is "a global company that is registered abroad" and the "jurisdiction over MindGeek is difficult to determine, as content is hosted outside of Canada."

She said between June 14, 2020 and May 31 this year, the RCMP received 134 reports from Pornhub through the missing and exploited children’s centre in the U.S.

Advocates at the NDP news conference also called on Canada to do more to stop the exploitation of women and children around the world.

Vaishnavi Sundar of the Women's Human Rights Campaign India says Pornhub perpetuates a message that abductions, assaults and torture of vulnerable women, especially in countries in the global south, can be considered a "fun sexual experience for men everywhere." 

“Most of the Indian women used on Pornhub don’t even know the videos of their rapes are being sold for profit worldwide,” she said.

Angus said over 600 women's organizations and survivors of sexual abuse reached out following the Pornhub study done by the House of Commons ethics committee, which is expected to table its report this week.

Westbrook said like many others, she is fighting to pursue changes and to get justice for sexual assault survivors everywhere.

“We do have to begin somewhere,” she said. “Let’s begin with Canada.”

Arvin Joaquin, The Canadian Press