Madam Shanahan, I want to welcome you to your first running as chair, and I know it's going to be very successful. Certainly we all express our concerns for Mr. Warkentin and his family.
I am sorry to interrupt. I just want a point of clarification, because I know there will be committee business. In case I have to step out, I'm asking for a minute of clarification.
At the meeting on January 29, we passed a motion that we were going to call Mr. Victor Li, Madam Marquez and Guy Spencer Elms and that we would be issuing summons. I know we have issued the legal summons on Mr. Victor Li and Madam Marquez, but I didn't hear the status of Mr. Guy Spencer Elms, who is the key director of many of the financial operations of the Kielburger operations in Kenya. Given the really disturbing allegations that have come out, both by CBC's Fifth Estate and Bloomberg, I think his testimony will help clear the air for a lot of people, particularly around the allegations of children being beaten in the schools in Kenya, which I think we all find pretty shocking and surprising.
Could the chair tell us if Mr. Spencer Elms has agreed to come before our committee? Would that be a yes or a no?
Thank you. I appreciate clarification on that. With the hybrid format, it's not always easy to see who is in person in the room and who is on screen.
I would like to proceed now with welcoming our witnesses for today for this very important study. As the witnesses know, they have time for presentations.
From the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, we will hear from Lianna McDonald, executive director, and Lloyd Richardson, director, information technology. We also have with us, from the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, Daniel Bernhard, executive director. From the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, we have Mr. Clark, president and chief executive officer.
I believe that each of you has a presentation.
Ms. McDonald, the floor is yours.
Good morning, Chairperson and distinguished members of the committee. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to present.
I am Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, a charity dedicated to the personal safety of children. Joining me today is Lloyd Richardson, our director of technology.
By way of background, our agency operates Cybertip.ca, which is Canada’s tip line for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children. The tip line has been operating for over 18 years and currently receives, on average, 3,000 or more public reports per month.
Our agency has witnessed the many ways in which technology has been weaponized against children and how the proliferation of child sexual abuse material, otherwise known as CSAM, and non-consensual material fosters ongoing harm to children and youth. Over the last decade, there has been an explosion of digital media platforms hosting user-generated pornographic content. This, coupled with a complete absence of meaningful regulation, has created the perfect storm whereby transparency and accountability are notably absent. Children have been forced to pay a terrible price for this.
We know that every image or video of CSAM that is publicly available is a source of revictimization for the child in that image or video. For this reason, in 2017 we created Project Arachnid. Processing tens of thousands of images per second, this powerful tool detects known CSAM for the purpose of quickly identifying and triggering the removal of this illegal and harmful content. Project Arachnid has provided our agency with an important lens into how the absence of a regulatory framework fails children. To date, Arachnid has processed more than 126 billion images and has issued over 6.7 million takedown notices to providers around the globe. We keep records of all these notices we send, how long it takes for a platform to remove CSAM once advised of its existence, and data on the uploading of the same or similar images on platforms.
At this point, we would like to share what we have seen on MindGeek’s platforms. Arachnid has detected and confirmed instances of what we believe to be CSAM on their platform at least 193 times in the past three years. These sightings include 66 images of prepubescent CSAM involving very young children; 74 images of indicative CSAM, meaning that the child in the image appears pubescent and roughly between the ages of 11 to 14; and 53 images of post-pubescent CSAM, meaning that sexual maturation of the child may be complete and we have confirmation that the child in the image is under the age of 18.
We do not believe the above numbers are representative of the scope and scale of this problem. These numbers are limited to obvious CSAM of very young children and of identified teenagers. There is likely CSAM involving many other teens that we would not know about, because many victims and survivors are trying to deal with the removal issue on their own. We know this.
MindGeek testified that moderators manually review all content that is uploaded to their services. This is very difficult to take seriously. We know that CSAM has been published on their website in the past. We have some examples to share.
The following image was detected by Arachnid. This image is a still frame taken from a CSAM video of an identified sexual abuse survivor. The child was pubescent, between the ages of 11 and 13, at the time of the recording. The image shows an adult male sexually assaulting the child by inserting his penis in her mouth. He is holding the child’s hair and head with one hand and his penis with the other hand. Only his midsection is visible in the image, whereas the child’s face is completely visible. A removal request was generated by Project Arachnid. It took at least four days for that image to come down.
The next example was detected also by Project Arachnid. It is a CSAM image of two unidentified sexual abuse victims. The children pictured in the image are approximately 6 to 8 years of age. The boy is lying on his back with his legs spread. The girl is lying on top of him with her face between his legs. Her own legs are straddling his head. The girl has the boy’s penis in her mouth. Her face is completely visible. The image came down the same day we sent the notice requesting this removal.
We have other examples, but my time is limited.
While the spotlight is currently focused on MindGeek, we want to make it clear that this type of online harm is occurring daily across many mainstream and not-so-mainstream companies operating websites, social media and messaging services. Any of them could have been put under this microscope as MindGeek has been by this committee. It is clear that whatever companies claim they are doing to keep CSAM off their servers, it is not enough.
Let's not lose sight of the core problem that led to this moment. We've allowed digital spaces where children and adults intersect to operate with no oversight. To add insult to injury, we have also allowed individual companies to decide the scale and scope of their moderation practices. This has left many victims and survivors at the mercy of these companies to decide if they take action or not.
Our two-decades-long social experiment with an unregulated Internet has shown that tech companies are failing to prioritize the protection of children online. Not only has CSAM been allowed to fester online, but children have also been harmed by the ease with which they can easily access graphic and violent pornographic content. Through our collective inaction we have facilitated the development of an online space that virtually has no rules, certainly no oversight and that consistently prioritizes profits over the welfare and the protection of children. We do not accept this standard in other forms of media, including television, radio and print. Equally, we should not accept it in the digital space.
This is a global issue. It needs a global coordinated response with strong clear laws that require tech companies to do this: implement tools to combat the relentless reuploading of illegal content; hire trained and effectively supervised staff to carry out moderation and content removal tasks at scale; keep detailed records of user reports and responses that can be audited; be accountable for moderation and removal decisions and the harm that flows to individuals when companies fail in this capacity; and finally, build in, by design, features that prioritize the best interests and rights of children.
In closing, Canada needs to assume a leadership role in cleaning up the nightmare that has resulted from an online world that is lacking any regulatory and legal oversight. It is clear that relying upon the voluntary actions of companies has failed society and children miserably. The time has come to impose some guardrails in this space and show the leadership that our children deserve.
I thank you for your time.
Madam Chair, honourable members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to appear today.
My name is Daniel Bernhard, and I am the executive director of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, an independent citizens' organization that promotes Canadian culture, values and sovereignty on air and online.
Last September, Friends released “Platform for Harm”, a comprehensive legal analysis showing that under long-standing Canadian common law, platforms like Pornhub and Facebook are already liable for the user-generated content they promote.
On February 5, Pornhub executives gave contemptuous and, frankly, contemptible, testimony to this committee, attempting to explain away all the illegal content that they promoted to millions of Canadians and millions more around the world.
Amoral as the Pornhub executives appear to be, it would be a mistake, in my opinion, to treat their behaviour as a strictly moral failing. As Mr. Angus said on that day the activity that you are studying is quite possibly criminal.
Pornhub does not dispute having disseminated vast amounts of child sexual abuse material, and Ms. McDonald just confirmed that fact. On February 5, the company's executives acknowledged that 80% of their content was unverified, some 10 million videos, and they acknowledged that they transmitted and recommended large amounts of illegal content to the public.
Of course, Pornhub's leaders tried to blame everybody but themselves. Their first defence is ignorance. They claim they can't remove illegal content from the platform because until a user flags it for them, they don't know it's there. In any case, they claim that responsibility lies with the person who uploaded the content and not with them. However, the law does not support this position. Yes, uploaders are liable, but so are platforms promoting illegal content if they know about it in advance and publish it anyway or if they are made aware of it post-publication and neglect to remove it.
This brings us to their second defence, incompetence. Given the high cost of human moderation, Pornhub employs software to find offending content, yet they hold themselves blameless when their software doesn't actually work. As Mark Zuckerberg has done so many times, Pornhub promised you that they'll do better. “Will do better” isn't a defence. It's a confession.
I wish Pornhub were an outlier, but it's not. In 2018, the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received over 18 million referrals of child sexual abuse materials, according to the New York Times. Most of it was found on Facebook. There were more than 50,000 reports per day. That's just what they caught. The volume of user-uploaded, platform-promoted child sexual abuse material is now so vast that the FBI must prioritize cases involving infants and toddlers, and according to the New York Times, “are essentially not able to respond to reports of anybody older than that”.
These platforms also disseminate many illegal contents that are not of a sexual nature. These include incitement to violence, death threats, and the sale of drugs and illegal weapons, among others. The Alliance to Counter Crime Online group regularly discovers such content on Facebook, YouTube and Amazon. There is even an illegal market for human remains on Facebook.
The volume of content that these platforms handle does not excuse them from disseminating and recommending illegal material. If widespread distribution of illegal content is an unavoidable side effect of your business, then your business should not exist, period.
Can you imagine an airline being allowed to carry passengers when every other flight crashes? Imagine if they just said that flying is hard and kept going. Yet Pornhub and Facebook would have you believe just that: that operating illegally is fine because they can't operate otherwise. That's like saying, “Give me a break officer. Of course I couldn't drive straight. I had way too much to drink.”
The government promises new legislation to hold platforms liable in some way for the content that they promote and this is a welcome development. But do we really need a new law to tell us that broadcasting child sexual assault material is illegal? How would you react if CTV did? Exactly.
In closing, our research is clear. In Canada, platforms are already liable for circulating illegal user-generated content. Why hasn't the Pornhub case led to charges? Perhaps you can invite RCMP Commissioner Lucki to answer that question. Ministers and could also weigh in. I'd be curious to hear what they have to say.
Don't get me wrong. The work that you are doing to draw attention to Pornhub's atrocious behaviour is vital, but you should also be asking why this case is being tried at committee and not in court.
Here's the question: Does Pornhub's CEO belong in Hansard or in handcuffs? This is a basic question of law and order and of Canada's sovereignty over its media industries. It is an urgent question. Canadian children, young women and girls cannot wait for a new law and neither should we.
Thank you very much. I welcome your questions.
Good morning, Madam Chair Shanahan and honourable members of the committee.
My name is John Clark. I am the president and CEO of the U.S.-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, sometimes known as NCMEC.
I am honoured to be here today to provide the committee with NCMEC's perspective on the growing problem of child sexual exploitation online, the role of combatting the dangers children can encounter on the Internet, and NCMEC's experience with the website Pornhub.
Before I begin with my testimony, I'd like to clarify for the committee that NCMEC and Pornhub are not partners. We do not have a partnership with Pornhub. Pornhub has registered to voluntarily report instances of child sexual abuse material on its website to NCMEC. This does not create a partnership between NCMEC and Pornhub, as Pornhub recently claimed during some of their testimony.
NCMEC was created in 1984 by child advocates as a private, non-profit organization to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation and prevent child victimization. Today I will focus on NCMEC's mission to reduce online child sexual exploitation.
NCMEC's core program to combat online child sexual exploitation is the CyberTipline. The CyberTipline is a tool for members of the public and electronic service providers, or ESPs, to report child sexual abuse material to NCMEC.
Since we created the CyberTipline over 23 years ago, the number of reports we receive has exploded. In 2019 we received 16.9 million reports to the CyberTipline. Last year we received over 21 million reports of international and domestic online child sexual abuse. We have received a total of over 84 million reports since the CyberTipline began.
A United States federal law requires a U.S.-based ESP to report apparent child sexual abuse material to NCMEC's CyberTipline. This law does not apply to ESPs that are based in other countries. However, several non-U.S. ESPs, including Pornhub, have chosen to voluntarily register with NCMEC and report child sexual abuse material to the CyberTipline.
The number of reports of child sexual exploitation received by NCMEC is heartbreaking and daunting. So, too, are the many new trends NCMEC has seen in recent years. These trends include the following: a tremendous increase in sexual abuse videos reported to NCMEC, reports of increasingly graphic and violent sexual abuse images, and videos of infants and young children. These include on-demand sexual abuse in a pay-per- view format, and videos showing the rape of young children.
A broader range of online platforms are being used to access, store, trade and download child sexual abuse material, including chats, videos and messaging apps, video- and photo-sharing platforms, social media and dating sites, gaming platforms and email systems.
NCMEC is fortunate to work with certain technology companies that employ significant time and financial resources on measures to combat online child sexual abuse on their platforms. These measures include large teams of well-trained human content moderators; sophisticated technology tools to detect abusive content, report it to NCMEC and prevent it from even being posted; engagement in voluntary initiatives to combat online child sexual exploitation offered by NCMEC and other ESPs; failproof and readily accessible ways for users to report content; and immediate removal of content reported as being child sexual abuse.
NCMEC applauds the companies that adopt these measures. Some companies, however, do not adopt child protection measures at all. Others adopt half-measures as PR strategies to try to show commitment to child protection while minimizing disruption to their operations.
Too many companies operate business models that are inherently dangerous. Many of these sites also fail to adopt basic safeguards, or do so only after too many children have been exploited and abused on their sites.
In March 2020, MindGeek voluntarily registered to report child sexual abuse material, or CSAM, on several of its websites to NCMEC's CyberTipline. These websites include Pornhub, as well as RedTube, Tube8 and YouPorn. Between April 2020 and December 2020, Pornhub submitted over 13,000 reports related to CSAM through NCMEC's CyberTipline; however, Pornhub recently informed NCMEC that 9,000 of these reports were duplicative. NCMEC has not been able to verify Pornhub's claim.
After MindGeek's testimony before this committee earlier this month, MindGeek signed agreements with NCMEC to access our hash-sharing databases. These arrangements would allow MindGeek to access hashes of CSAM and sexually exploitive content that have been tagged and shared by NCMEC with other non-profits and ESPs to detect and remove content. Pornhub has not taken steps yet to access these databases or use these hashes.
Over the past year NCMEC has been contacted by several survivors asking for our help in removing sexually abusive content of themselves as children that was on Pornhub. Several of these survivors told us they had contacted Pornhub asking them to remove the content, but the content still remained up on the Pornhub website. In several of these instances NCMEC was able to contact Pornhub directly, which then resulted in the content being removed from the website.
We often focus on the tremendous number of CyberTipline reports that NCMEC receives and the huge volume of child sexual abuse material contained in these reports. However, our focus should more appropriately be on the child victims and the impact the continuous distribution of these images has on their lives. This is the true social tragedy of online child sexual exploitation.
NCMEC commends the committee for listening to the voices of the survivors in approaching these issues relating to Pornhub. By working closely with the survivors, NCMEC has learned the trauma suffered by these child victims is unique. The continued sharing and recirculation of a child's sexually abusive images and videos inflicts significant revictimization on the child. When any website, whether it's Pornhub or another site, allows a child's sexually abusive video to be uploaded, tagged with a graphic description of their abuse and downloaded and shared, it causes devastating harm to the child. It is essential for these websites to have effective means to review content before it's posted, to remove content when it's reported as child sexual exploitation, to give the benefit of doubt to the child or the parent or lawyer when they report content as child sexual exploitation, and to block the recirculation of abusive content once it has been removed.
Child survivors and the children who have yet to be identified and recovered from their abuse depend on us to hold technology companies accountable for the content on their platforms.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee. This is an increasingly important topic. I look forward to answering the committee's questions regarding NCMEC's work on these issues.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Once again, as every day on this committee, I am shocked and sick to my stomach and haunted by the amount of time this has all gone on. I thank you all for your work and your efforts and your expertise. I can't even imagine the level and the years of frustration you must have experienced. Thanks for being here today.
I hope that at the end of all of this there's actually content to combat this scourge, rather than what happens sometimes, where reports are written and then nothing occurs.
Again, I hardly even know where to start.
Ms. McDonald, you mentioned in your 2020 report about the various platforms, including Pornhub, that now I think many people's minds are being blown, that they include child sexual assault material. Could you tell us whether or not there are features that actually allow the reporting specifically of child sexual abuse material on those platforms you reviewed?
Thank you very much. I'm going to turn this over to Lloyd Richardson, our director of technology, in one second.
The point I want to make before he gives those concrete examples is that we took that review on when we were examining the now signed-on voluntary principles to address this, which the Five Eyes countries are signatories to. Our agency wanted to find out how easy it was for a user or a victim to report CSAM on very well-known platforms. We were absolutely shocked at how difficult it was often even to find the term CSAM.
We noticed a number of tactics that were used to actually discourage, if you can imagine, the reporting of CSAM. We can only surmise it's because many of those companies didn't necessarily want the numbers, didn't want to show how much of this was on their platforms, because of the volume of it coming in.
Before Lloyd speaks to the examples, I also want to note the number of survivors who, as our colleague and friend John Clark mentioned, are coming into organizations such as ours right now. We have a tsunami of these victims who either want to get their illegal material down or are having a difficult time reporting. The review was intended to shed light on a number of platforms and the inability of people to effectively and easily report.
It's important to note when looking at these different platforms that this is only one dynamic of the way these companies operate in the space, the ability of people to report, “Hey, this is my material. Please remove it.” We need to know that many people aren't even necessarily doing that.
When we look at reports that we send in, typically industry will use the term “trusted flagger program” and what have you. Essentially, that just means they pay more attention to child protection charities when they send a notice in. When a member of the public does it, it generally has a much lower priority. This is typical across most tech companies, including MindGeek.
Another piece that's a bit of an issue is that to actually remove something is not a one-click option. The idea that these companies allow for the upload of this material—or historically have—and that you can upload it with no sort of contact information and away you go.... The process you need to go through to actually get something removed is quite heavy. In some cases you need to provide identification. If you have your material up there, would you really want to provide your email address or contact information to a company such as MindGeek?
Certainly, some of these things have changed. MindGeek fared well compared with some of the big tech companies, but that certainly doesn't mean it's doing very well in this space.
This is very disturbing.
I think I only have a minute left, so if we run out of time, I hope we'll get at this for all of our witnesses.
I'm hoping you can help us understand better one matter. What I understand from testimony is that when these websites have to take down child sexual abuse material, they'll put up a notice that says, “Removed because of copyright”, instead of something such as “Taken down because of a report to NCMEC”. Could you comment on that?
Then frankly, to Mr. Bernhard's point, which I was “out loud on mute” supporting, what boggles my mind is that at least under Canadian law—and I'm glad that these things are being reported to NCMEC—it seems to me very clear that they have a responsibility to be reporting child sexual abuse material to the police.
I wonder whether any or all of you have comments on those two points.
Mr. Bernhard, I skimmed the report, “Platform for harm: Internet intermediary liability in Canadian law”. I also saw that you had produced an opinion piece in the Toronto Star on Thursday, December 10. Thank you for all the work you're doing in holding to account providers of these images when they know they should not be up there, if I can just put it in very plain language.
I wish to ask a question, and I believe this is under your domain. In a September 2020 report, Friends concludes that existing Canadian laws should be sufficient to hold platforms such as Pornhub accountable for illegal content that appears on their platform, despite the fact that the content is user generated and is not created or uploaded by Pornhub.
First, can you explain your position in more detail? Second, do you think MindGeek's algorithms provide the company sufficient knowledge of non-consensual content to give it “knowing involvement” in their publication and dissemination?
I'm sorry. The Internet providers are conspiring against me here.
We're talking about a difference between American law, which holds companies that deal in user-generated content indemnified from that content, and Canadian law, which does not.
In Canada, as our report documents, a company becomes liable for something that somebody else said or did under two circumstances: first, if they know about it in advance and publish it anyway, and second, if they are notified about it after the fact and fail to take action.
That's the first thing. In the case of Pornhub, both appear to be true. They are notified and take a long time to remove content. Also, to address your point about algorithms and recommendation of content, we believe they have a pretty sophisticated understanding of what this content is. If a relatively small not-for-profit organization in Manitoba is able to deploy technology that can find this material in large numbers, surely a company the size of MindGeek can do the same thing.
There is a difference between hosting content and actively recommending it to people. In that sense, the platforms are arguably more liable and more responsible for the offending content than the users themselves.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and congratulations.
Allow me to express my sincere thanks to our esteemed witnesses. You are again providing us with information that will allow us not only to have what it takes to act, but also to determine that it is urgent to act.
Some of the discussions I had with my kids this weekend made me wonder about the impact that this viral world of adult entertainment consumption could have on our youth. I feel that we need to take a more global view. You tell us, for example, that the legislation in a given country is different from ours and that, depending on the business model in place, people manage to slip through the cracks in every imaginable way. Why not take the bull by the horns and decide to do something upstream quickly, that is, even before allocating space to distributors? We could force them to obtain a licence, or we could force them to demonstrate that everything is done in a legal and preventive way.
Beyond that, another aspect must be taken into account. When we talk about legislation, we're also talking about intervention structures with our country's police forces. When it comes to international cases, however, there is a complete loss of control. I would like you to tell us how we could act. Right now, we have a lot of data and evidence and reports that clearly show us that there is an urgent need for action.
Could you tell us in a few words how we could approach this effectively, when the issues are international?
If, tomorrow morning, we decided to legislate urgently, the fact remains that, in other countries, the legislation would be different.
I'll use the time I have left to give each witness a few minutes to speak. We could start with Mr. Bernhard.
Thank you for the question, Ms. Gaudreau.
I think the answer is that the incidents are international, but they are also very local. Pornhub, MindGeek, is arguably Canada's largest Internet media company. Mr. Antoon lives in Canada, has property in Canada and is fully subject to the jurisdiction of the RCMP. While the crimes may be perpetuated elsewhere, they are also happening in Canada.
In cases in which the company is resident outside of Canada, there is a lever that the government can pull and that is the money. All of the money that comes from advertisers to those platforms can also be stopped. Just as it's illegal to buy drugs with a credit card issued by a Canadian bank or to engage in some gambling activity, in the extreme case in which a foreign company does not comply, we could also cut the money.
In this case, we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. If that's not an incentive, I don't know what is.
May I just add something, please?
From our organization's perspective, we've been screaming from the rooftops that we are long overdue for regulation.
I think it's incumbent upon us all to ask ourselves how we got here. We as an organization also look at the unregulated nature of the adult pornography issue. There definitely needs to be more than a conversation about how we are going to take the keys back from industry.
Internet freedoms don't mean freedom from accountability and responsibility for what users post on your services. We have been definitely looking at yielding the power, to start, with the Five Eyes, looking at ways countries can become unified in looking at global standards for what we need to do here.
On behalf of children, and they are citizens as well, we can certainly say that we've never needed government more than we do now to step in and intervene.
There are two pieces there.
The one side, concerning law enforcement, we couldn't really comment on. On the law enforcement angle, the legislation states that basically, if an entity has possession of that material on their system, there are preservation requirements placed upon them and they need to report to Canadian law enforcement. That could be any police officer in Canada.
The second piece is where an entity does not necessarily have possession of the CSAM. It could be an Internet service provider of some sort that has become aware of child sexual abuse material on a different service. They can report that to a designated reporting entity, which is us, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
Speaking on this side of things, very recently MindGeek has reached out to us to attempt to report through that means. I can't necessarily speak—
I'll now go to Mr. Bernhard on the issue of Canadian law.
We have spent a lot of time at our parliamentary committee on issues of compliance by the tech giants, and Pornhub-MindGeek is a tech giant. It seems to me in my reading of Canadian law that we have very strong laws to protect against non-consensual exploitation of images. We have strong child pornography laws.
I believe there's only been one online investigation, and it wasn't against any company nearly as big as Pornhub. Safe harbour provisions have protected the tech giants, because they don't know what's on their servers. However, Pornhub officials told us that they viewed every single image. If they viewed every single image, that means they would endorse that image as being okay.
Would you think there would be an issue of responsibility there, and as well that the tags that identify “knocked-out teen” or “raped teen” would be the promotion of acts that we would consider illegal? They seem to be not sure whether “teen” is legal or illegal; however, I think under Canadian law.... Do you believe they would be protected under safe harbour provisions?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I thank the witnesses for appearing before us to talk about this topic. I find this testimony terribly hard to hear. Earlier this spring, I attended an international conference involving three countries, Germany, Canada and the United States. We were Zoom-bombed.
We were shown material similar to what you describe, where we saw children, very young people. I have to tell you that it traumatized me at the time. Listening to you and listening to the testimony of the victims over the last few weeks, I have to say I find all these things abominable.
Mr. Bernhard, in your opinion, which country has the best balance in terms of legislation? Which country has laws that are tough enough to fight the distribution of this content, and laws that have enough teeth to sue companies to remove this content from their sites?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
We've just learned—and we expected this—that fraudsters have gotten their hands on the personal data of three out of four Canadians.
I think it is urgent, obviously, to include control measures. Earlier, we were talking about the link with police forces. We were wondering how we can work more closely with them.
I realize that the work to be done in the field is colossal. It saddens me to see that not only are there millions of individuals whose privacy is completely ruined, but also that fraud exists in Quebec and in Canada.
Mr. Bernhard, am I wrong to say that there is a structure missing that would prevent some people from slipping through the cracks?
Do you agree that tightening up control regulations through the Ethics Commissioner, for example, is urgent and necessary, so that our regulation can one day align with a model like the one in Germany?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Stepping back from this a bit—because for many of us this has been a pretty shocking study and many of us, I think, are feeling in our guts that something is fundamentally wrong—I want to just articulate that pornography is legal in Canada. Citizens have the right to watch weird things. People have the right to promote and show their consensual bedroom antics, if that's what they like to do. Whether people like it or not, that is their right.
The question is whether or not Pornhub-MindGeek has abused or failed to live up to their legal obligations. That, to me, is the fundamental question on non-consensual images, on issues of rape, on issues particularly of child abuse.
When I read Canada's legislation, going back to the 2011 mandatory reporting legislation, a provider is obligated to reach out to the police if there are issues raised, but also within Canada, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
I want to go back to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection for a second.
You said that they began reporting somewhere around December, somewhere around the time that the New York Times article blew the doors off everything. Is that correct?
Thank you for your question.
I think the biggest problem—we mention this in our report—happens when an offence is not criminal but civil and the current system leaves it to the individual victim to take up their case with a platform. This happens often in cases of libel and defamation. It's just impossible to expect that one person will have the emotional and financial resources to see that through.
The one area where we do think there could be improvement is for the government to empower someone, like the Centre for Child Protection, to use government resources to help escalate cases so that individual plaintiffs and individual complainants can have the force of government behind them to make sure that their complaints are seen through. That's one area of enforcement where we think there could definitely be an improvement.
As for the loopholes, we need to find out, and until a judge points at one, we won't know, so let's get on with it. That's our lesson here, our message. If there are loopholes, we'll identify them and Parliament can act to fix them.
Good afternoon, Madam Chair and honourable members of the committee. Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you today on this pressing matter. My colleagues from the RCMP have been introduced.
I'd like to highlight that Chief Superintendent Marie-Claude Arsenault is with us. She oversees sensitive and specialized investigative services, which also includes the National Child Exploitation Crime Centre. Also with us is Mr. Paul Boudreau, executive director of technical operations for the RCMP. It's also a pleasure to have our colleague from the Department of Justice with us as well.
I'd like to describe for a couple of minutes a broader context of online child sexual exploitation and highlight the RCMP's steadfast efforts towards combatting this crime and bringing offenders to justice.
Online child sexual exploitation is one of the most egregious forms of gender-based violence and human rights violations in Canada. Not only are children, particularly girls, victimized through sexual abuse, but often they are revictimized through their lives, as photos, videos and/or stories of their abuse are shared repeatedly on the Internet amongst offenders.
In 2004 the Government of Canada announced the national strategy for the protection of children from sexual exploitation on the Internet, which brings together the RCMP, Public Safety Canada, the Department of Justice and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, CCCP, to provide a comprehensive, coordinated approach to enhancing the protection of children from online child sexual exploitation. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is a non-governmental organization that operates Cybertip.ca, Canada's tip line to report suspected online sexual exploitation of children.
The Criminal Code provides a comprehensive range of offences relating to online child sexual exploitation. Canadian police services, including the RCMP, are responsible for investigating these offences when there is a possible link to Canada. The Criminal Code also authorizes courts to order the removal of specific material, for example, a voyeuristic recording, an intimate image and child pornography that are stored on and made available through a computer system in Canada.
The RCMP's National Child Exploitation Crime Centre is the national law enforcement arm of the national strategy and functions as a central point of contact for investigations related to online sexual exploitation of children in Canada and international investigations involving Canadian victims, offenders or Canadian companies hosting child sexual exploitation material.
The centre investigates online child sexual exploitation and provides a number of critical services to law enforcement agencies, including immediately responding to a child at risk; coordinating investigative files with police of jurisdiction across Canada and internationally; identifying and rescuing victims; conducting specialized investigations; gathering, analyzing and generating intelligence in support of operations; engaging in operational research; and developing and implementing technical solutions.
The centre has seen first-hand the dramatic increase in reports of online child sexual exploitation in recent years. In 2019 the centre received 102,927 requests for assistance, an increase of 68% since 2018 and an overall increase of 1,106% since 2014. The majority of the referrals the centre receives come from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States. Every report is assessed and actioned where possible.
In addition to the high number of reports, cases of online child sexual exploitation have become more complex. Advances in technology such as encryption, the dark Web and tools to ensure anonymity have made it much easier for offenders to conduct their criminal activities away from law enforcement agencies. Investigations related to online platforms also raise a host of other Internet-related issues, including the failure of platforms to retain data, the amount and speed at which content can be posted and distributed, and the ability of users to download hosted content.
When content is successfully removed from one platform, it can easily be uploaded to the same platform or to other websites, perpetuating victimization and leading to a proliferation of content depicting sexually exploited children on multiple platforms. It is well known that offenders protect this type of content on personal devices or through cloud computing services.
Like many cybercrimes, online child sexual exploitation is often multi-jurisdictional or multinational, affecting victims across jurisdictions and creating additional complexities for law enforcement. No single government or organization can address this crime alone. The RCMP works diligently with its partners at the municipal, provincial and federal levels in Canada and internationally, as well as with non-governmental organizations, to strengthen efforts to rescue victims and bring offenders to justice. In fact, the RCMP is the current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international police alliance dedicated to the protection of children from online sexual exploitation and other transnational child sex offences. The Virtual Global Taskforce consists of law enforcement, NGOs and industry partners working collaboratively to find effective response strategies. Chief Superintendent Arsenault, who is with us today, is the current chair of this very important group.
The RCMP also seeks to work closely with the private sector as offenders regularly utilize platforms operated by Internet and/or communications service providers to carry out a range of Criminal Code offences relating to online child sexual exploitation.
The RCMP regularly engages private sector partners to discuss existing legislation, which includes an act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service, referred to as the mandatory reporting act, which came into force in 2011. The mandatory reporting act requires that Internet service providers report to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection any tips they receive regarding websites where child pornography may be publicly available. Under the mandatory reporting act, Internet service providers are also required to notify police and safeguard evidence if they believe that a child pornography offence has been committed using their Internet service. Since the mandatory reporting act came into force in 2011, the RCMP has seen a continual increase in reporting from industry partners.
Many online platforms post jurisdictional challenges, as I outlined earlier. An online platform that is registered in Canada may maintain its servers abroad, which could limit the effect of a Canadian warrant. Further, when a global company registered abroad has a Canadian presence, it is likely to host its content abroad, making jurisdiction difficult to determine.
When an online platform permits its users, and/or itself, to personally download material to and upload material from their own computers, it becomes impossible to determine where this material may be stored or to prevent it from reappearing and being further disseminated.
New companies, platforms and applications will continue to emerge, and the services they provide to Canadians will continue to evolve. It is important that the Government of Canada, legislative authorities and law enforcement agencies keep pace and adapt accordingly to combat these crimes.
The illegal online content that many communications service—
The Chair: Okay, you're back on. Great.
Mr. Han Dong: I hope I get an extra minute because of technical difficulties.
I want to thank all the witnesses for coming forward.
Mr. White, first things first, I remember in 2019 that the government announced an expansion of the national strategy for protecting children from sexual exploitation on the Internet. I think that the total was over $22 million. Specifically, $15.25 million was to enhance the capacity of the Internet child exploitation unit, which is the ICE unit.
Can you tell us whether that capacity of RCMP's ICE unit across the country has been enhanced as a result of this additional investment?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. White, my colleague was talking about an increase in investments of more than $22 million, which allowed you to increase your staff to work on the problem.
Even if money is spent today, even if people can no longer download the content that has been removed, we would like to know what happened in the previous months. So I have three questions for you.
Does the amount of money collected always correspond to the number of complaints you receive, or do you now monitor preventively?
How is it that it was through the media that we learned that MindGeek, which owns Pornhub, had broken the law?
How do you intervene preventively, and how do you handle complaints?
Okay. Again, I'm looking at Canadian law, and it doesn't say that a Canadian entity should be referred to the United States so they could then refer to the RCMP. They said they have an obligation to report to the police, which is in Canada.
I want to read an email I received from one of the survivors. Again, we're not talking about one or two cases here. We've come across many. This survivor wrote to me on Friday afternoon. She said she was glad that we would be talking to the RCMP on Monday. She said, “I hope they can answer why they don't do anything. I emailed them and asked them to investigate Pornhub's part in my video, because I think it was illegal. They didn't even answer.”
Here's the point. She said she was scared to try again. She was worried if she pushed the issue, they'd just get mad and stop working on these cases. The issue of survivors having to ask you to do the job you're supposed to do, and you tell us that you haven't initiated any cases. It sounds as if you're not even going to get mad at this poor survivor; you just haven't done it.
Can you explain to us, after all the testimony we've heard, why you are still talking about dealing with the dark net, needing more resources, working with the United States, and you are not addressing the issues—the credible issues—of sexual abuse and non-consensual acts that have happened on this service? What are you giving us here?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you for being with us today to provide us with essential information that will help us along, I hope, in completing this study. My questions will be for Mr. Wong.
There are specifically three areas that I'd like to hear you on. I understand that there are limitations with regard to the application of the law right now, and changes or amendments to it might be necessary so that we can address this issue. The first one is really the definition of child pornography, because I think that's what is posing a problem.
Number two is the question of jurisdiction. I heard you say that it implies the question of having the material on the server. What about the question of making the material available and distributed in different countries? Would the fact that the material would appear in a specific country make the material or the distribution and availability of that material in that country a question of jurisdiction, so therefore if it appears there then it would have legal jurisdiction to be able to try?
Number three is the question of onus of responsibility. We heard that there could be a defence in terms of ignorance, i.e., they didn't know until someone flagged it, or the responsibility has shifted over to the person who uploads. Wouldn't legislative changes in terms of shifting the onus of responsibility onto those who make this kind of material readily available, other than the victims themselves, be...? We heard the testimony of Ms. Fleites. It was heartbreaking to hear that she tried and tried and tried, with proof of identity and with a licence, and yet again the material was taken down very temporarily, only to reappear again and again and again—a repeated assault.
I'd like to hear from you on these three points. Thank you.
There's a lot to unpack there.
The definition of child pornography in the Criminal Code is among the world's broadest. It's not only images that we protect against or criminalize the distribution of, but it is also audio pornography and two forms of written pornography.
I am not sure it's the problem of the law. The problem often is the application of the law, and how that works when the rubber hits the road. We heard Inspector White talk about the circumstances in which these things come up, and Marie-Claude was talking about how much evidence and proof there is in being able to follow up on an investigation.
In relation to the jurisdiction—and that's the more difficult part—Marie-Claude was talking about what we're doing internationally. Canada is involved in the negotiation of a second additional protocol to the Budapest Convention, and that's the only international convention that covers cybercrime.
In that convention there are specific provisions or articles on child pornography. There is the ability of the international community to deal with this, but that second additional protocol has to do with transborder access to data, because it's almost a universal problem among all countries trying to combat crime in this sphere.
Other work is ongoing at the UN right now with the negotiation of a new cybercrime treaty and also the Five Eyes, Ms. McDonald, in the previous panel, mentioned the voluntary principles that they're working on. Our largest partner, the United States, also enacted the U.S. CLOUD Act. That is another method of addressing the issue of transborder access to data. Canada is involved in all those aspects.
In terms of shifting the onus, there is a difficulty, and Mr. Angus was highlighting some of the issues about the person who wrote in about the difficulty of getting the material taken down off these sites. There is a lag in that. The problem with some of this material, like the revenge porn, is that someone has to be affected. It's very difficult to police a lot of the companies, because without a complaint, there's no way of distinguishing that revenge porn from something that is otherwise completely legal. There's always going to be a bit of a lag time. I think it was mentioned that and Canadian Heritage are looking at the 24 hour takedown in terms of the online harm.