Montrealers are gathering to denounce the exploitation of minors on pornography platforms 

monthly demonstrations continue raising awareness while demanding change

A group of Montrealers have been gathering monthly in front of MindGeek’s headquarters, the parent company responsible for many explicit websites such as Pornhub. The group recently joined outside of MindGeek’s building to denounce the company’s affiliation with the exploitation of minors on the site. 

The monthly demonstrations began in 2020 when organizer Rafaela Diaz-Byers Lee heard about MindGeek’s involvement in exploiting pornographic material of minors on Pornhub, including videos of rape and spy cam footage. Several investigations have shown Pornhub’s involvement in child abuse is deeply catalogued. 

Arrêter ExploitationHub is a Quebec-focused, non-religious, non-partisan campaign against MindGeek. 

“I wanted to mobilize a team here in Montreal because it was happening in our own city,” said Diaz-Byers Lee. 

As a master’s student studying creative arts therapy at Concordia, Diaz-Byers Lee was shocked to find out that the co-owner of MindGeek was a Concordia alumnus. 

“I wanted to just get people out there, the only thing I knew how to do is just to stand on the side of the road and educate people and raise awareness,” added Diaz-Byers Lee. 

Among the demonstrators was Arnold Viersen, a Member of Parliament for the Peace River—Westlock, Alberta riding. Viersen joined to show his support and ongoing work for the cause. 

Viersen has been actively working with the government on this issue. In 2016, he moved a motion in the House of Commons to request an investigation on the impacts of pornography on Canadian society. Through this process, he also learned about MindGeek’s involvement. 

“We’ve been pushing on the government to do something about this. So one side is like trying to keep porn out of the hands of kids. But the other side is to keep kids out of porn,” said Viersen. 

Viersen recently introduced Bill C-270, Stopping Internet Sexual Exploitation Act (SISE), a law that would require those making or distributing pornographic material for commercial purposes to verify the age and consent of each person appearing in the video. 

“So that’s kind of why I’m here today, is to just raise awareness about the horrific actions of this company and their impacts on people’s lives,” said Viersen. 

Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, was also present in solidarity.

On her end, Miville-Dechêne has been working on Bill S-210, an Act to restrict young persons’ online access to sexually explicit material.

This bill would recognize the portrayal and exposure of porn to kids as a criminal act, an initiative already adopted by France. In 2020, the French Parliament unanimously agreed to pass a law requiring age verification on pornographic websites to prevent access by children under 18. 

Miville-Dechêne is emphasizing the idea of age verification to access these pornography platforms. She explains that these websites are very accessible to children. 

“We know that a lot of kids have been on these platforms for hours and hours and days, especially during the pandemic,” she said. 

“What is shown, according to scientific research, we can make links now between kids watching porn, a lot of porn, and different harms, like becoming more aggressive in sexual relationship having a distorted view of sexual relationships,” Miville-Dechêne said. 

A ranking lists Pornhub as the 12th-most-visited website in the world. Though statistics for 2020 are unavailable, 2019 statistics show that this platform attracted 42 billion visits that year, or an average of 115 million visits per day. 

“We want to preserve the innocence of children, they have to learn about sexual relationships in another way. So yes, I want sexual education for our kids and our teens. But I don’t want porn to be sexual education. And this is what it has become,” said Miville-Dechêne.

The demonstrations will continue to denounce the harmful impacts of the platforms. The next protest will be on Dec. 17.


Survivors speaking up as Canada continues to investigate Mindgeek

Content warning: This article covers topics such as sexual abuse and the sexual exploitation of minors. 

On Feb. 19, the House of Commons ethics committee heard several survivors’ accounts of being traumatized by Pornhub’s refusal to take down exploitative videos from its website, which included sexual abuse and underage individuals.

The survivors said their traumas were exacerbated due to Pornhub’s continuous refusal to remove such videos. These survivors, living in the United States and Canada, explained how Pornhub, which is owned by Mindgeek, had constantly rejected their pleas for action made through all available channels.

In fact, there are numerous allegations of this kind. For long, Mindgeek has been accused of hosting abusive content, such as rape and exploitation of underage girls. For instance, last January, an Ontario woman initiated a $600 million class-action lawsuit against Mindgeek, alleging she was videotaped being raped as a 12-year-old, and the recording was posted on Pornhub.

On Feb. 5, top executives of Mindgeek testified before the House of Commons ethics committee. In the face of these accusations, they still claimed they run “the safest adult platform in the world right now.”

In 2004, two Concordia graduates, Stephane Manos and Ouissam Youssef, founded an entity in Montreal named “Mansef,” where the main function was to hold links to various free pornographic websites, and sold these assets after six years. After another change of ownership in 2013, this company got its current name Mindgeek, which is most well known for its flagship website Pornhub. Manos and Youssef successfully continued their entrepreneurship journey, and now run Valsef Group — a technology investment group mostly focused on software business. In 2019, they contributed to Concordia’s District 3 Innovation Centre to support the “ANA Avatar XPRIZE” competition.

Mindgeek, the company they once founded and nurtured, continued its impactful journey. In terms of traffic, Pornhub has always remained in the global top list. However, since this past year, Mindgeek has come under significant backlash for different controversies.

Run from a commercial complex on Decarie Boulevard in Montreal — along with its other offices in the United States, Luxembourg and Cyprus — Mindgeek possesses some impressive statistics. According to the company website, every day it has over 115 million visitors and 15 terabytes of content uploaded.

On March 8, 2020, International Women’s Day, a large protest took place outside Mindgeek headquarters in Montreal, as part of a continuous campaign. Similar demonstrations occurred in the same location on Oct. 2, the International Day of Non-Violence.

This protest ultimately turned into a weekly practice, which continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every Tuesday from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., activists and demonstrators protest outside Mindgeek’s Montreal headquarters. This endeavour is being led by “Stop Exploitation Hub,” a Quebec-based non-partisan and non-religious campaign against Mindgeek.

In early December 2020, The New York Times published a special op-ed which detailed experiences of women victimized by this website, as it continued monetization on content depicting child rape, and revenge pornography (when someone publicizes intimate photos of their former partner without their consent).

Some of them narrated how videos depicting them being raped as an underage girl were never removed from the website, even after years of requesting Pornhub to take them down.

On Dec. 4, 2020, after being asked during his regular press briefing, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his deep concern over the issue and stated that the government would continue to work with its law enforcing agencies to tackle it.

After a week, a motion was unanimously passed in the parliament, asking senior officials of Mindgeek to testify regarding recent allegations before the House of Commons ethics committee, which ultimately happened on Feb. 5, 2021.

A crucial development occurred on Dec. 10 2020, when Mastercard and Visa announced that they had started blocking their customers from using their credit cards to make purchases on Pornhub, due to the presence of unlawful content on the site (Paypal enforced similar blocking in 2019). These steps by online payment giants have been hailed by anti-pornography activists.

Consequently, Mindgeek announced some policy changes on their end: suspending uploads and downloads from all non-verified users and deleting millions of non-verified videos — which were nearly 80 per cent of its hosted content. Mindgeek has announced that it is implementing a standard third-party system, Yoti, for user identity and age verification.

Enforcing age verification for adult sites has been a long demand of the activists. Online age-verification technologies — ID document or face-based verification for anyone accessing the site —  which are commonly used in some countries to verify people intending to buy age-restricted products (such as alcohol, weapons, banking services), are now getting more sophisticated through artificial intelligence.

In 2017, the UK became the first country to legislate mandatory age verification of adult sites. A similar bill is currently under consideration in Canadian parliament. German authorities are currently working with Microsoft to develop a “globally unique” AI process to combat child pornography.

Rapid emergence of digital technology during the last two decades has obviously increased the availability of pornographic contents. However, such tech tools can be utilized to curb the damaging consequences of pornography as well.

Choosing a balanced approach is crucial in this regard. One good example can be how Tumblr (a popular American social networking platform) banned all sorts of adult content in 2018 after discovering uncontrollable presence of child pornogrpahy in their site.

While Mindgeek focuses on surviving amid their current challenges, the Ethics committee will continue to hold hearings to prepare a recommendation report for Parliament on if, and how, Ottawa should intervene in the issue.

Disclaimer: Azfar Adib is a recurring volunteer with “Stop Exploitation Hub.” 


Photograph by Christine Beaudoin

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