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The moral stain on Canada's tech sector

On November 27, 2020, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote Children of Pornhuband brought international attention to the biggest moral stain on Canada’s tech sector.

For years, journalists in Quebec, and Canadian parliamentarians, had been trying to call attention to MindGeek – the Montreal-based technology company that runs a number of porn sites including Pornhub, the eighth-most visited website in the world.

MindGeek wasn’t just trafficking in pornography, its marquee brand had become one of the world’s leading host sites for child sexual exploitation and revenge porn. Pornhub was selling ads and subscriptions that allowed its parent company to make money off the exploitation of thousands of victims.

In March, representatives from three political parties wrote to the Prime Minister to raise this issue. We did so again, this time as a larger group of 20 parliamentarians, from four parties, over a week before the New York Times exposed MindGeek’s business practices to the world.

For years, Conservatives have been working to stop child sexual exploitation and to crack down on sex trafficking. The heartbreaking story of Rehtaeh Parsons led our former Conservative government to pass the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act in 2014 to stop the non-consensual distribution of intimate images and to empower courts to have them removed from the Internet. But so much more needs to be done.

On average, human trafficking victims are recruited at the age of 13, many by people they believe to be “friends” or “boyfriends”. Social media has become a core tool used by predators to recruit children in middle school.

Education is key to stopping exploitation. Recognizing the signs when someone is at risk and helping get them the appropriate supports. In the last few years, Canada’s provincial governments have led the way in doing that. But the federal government has a role to play, too.

MindGeek has profited off the exploitation of underage and non-consenting young women for years through the sale of ads and subscriptions. In this country, you shouldn’t be able to buy and sell ads for videos that sexually exploit children.

When Visa and Mastercard threatened to terminate their relationship with Pornhub earlier this month, the company took down 80% of its video content – almost 10 million videos.

In a single day, MindGeek and Pornhub, by their actions, admitted that the majority of the content on the site had a questionable origin. That they couldn’t verify age or consent for more than three-quarters of what they were selling.

Name a single other industry, after a display of negligence that staggering, that would be allowed to regulate itself?

MindGeek has shown that they only act when their business is threatened. So, Canada needs a legislative framework that expressly holds them liable. If you host or produce explicit sexual content, you have an obligation to verify the age and consent of all participants in any material you produce or host. If you fail, you will be liable.

This didn’t start with MindGeek, and it won’t end there. Online classified advertising sites, as an example, regularly end up hosting thinly veiled ads that, in reality, are transactional offers for sex with people who are being trafficked. Advertising is a core source of revenue in online exploitation. A key part of any strategy to tackle online child sexual exploitation and revenge porn has to be ethical advertising.

In addition to all this, the Canadian government should implement the recommendations in a recent report by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

We have listened to survivors of sex trafficking and online exploitation courageously share their horrific stories of abuse. Their voices must not continue to go unheard.

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