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The offices of MindGeek in Montreal on Dec. 9, 2020.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

An Ontario woman is alleging adult entertainment conglomerate MindGeek hosted a video depicting her sexual abuse at age 12 on Pornhub, its flagship website, according to a proposed class-action lawsuit against the company.

The application to authorize a class action was filed in Quebec’s Superior Court on Dec. 29. It seeks $600-million in total damages for those whose images were published on MindGeek’s sites without their consent since 2007. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The woman, identified as Jane Doe in court documents, alleges she was notified about the existence of the video on Pornhub by an acquaintance through Twitter in the fall of 2019, but did not see the message until January of last year. The video was behind a paywall, but the woman recognized herself through a still image, she alleges.

She filled out a form on the site requesting the video be removed. Court documents say she received an automated response a few days later, and heard nothing from the company after that. She does not know if the video was removed, according to Louis Sokolov at Sotos LLP in Toronto, co-counsel in the matter.

Lawyers for Siskinds Desmeules in Quebec, which filed the application, allege in the court documents that MindGeek took “no steps” to ensure that only consensual material appeared on its sites, and that it did not employ enough properly trained content moderators to review user-uploaded videos for any instances of sex trafficking, rape and minors.

Instead, the documents say, MindGeek “generated significant revenue and profit from non-consensual” images and videos, and should have taken steps years ago to prevent hosting such material.

MindGeek did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

“What we’re seeing here is that more victims are finding the courage to break the silence,” said Christine St-Pierre, a Quebec Liberal Party national assembly member who has spoken out forcefully against MindGeek. “A lawsuit like this is essential. It won’t change the past for these victims. But it could bring them some comfort and force the company to be held accountable for its actions.”

Ms. St-Pierre, a member of the Quebec legislature’s committee on the sexual exploitation of minors, said that although the chief plaintiff is from Ontario, there are likely victims in Quebec as well.

MindGeek is registered in Luxembourg, but primarily operated in Montreal, where it employs between 750 and 999 people. Financial documents show MindGeek, which controls some of the biggest adult sites in the world, earned US$460-million in revenue in 2018 and turned a profit of US$22.2-million. (It’s also saddled with some US$370-million in high-interest debt.)

MindGeek has been in turmoil since a New York Times article in December said the company profits from videos of child sexual abuse and revenge pornography hosted on Pornhub. The article included accounts from women who said they were in videos posted without their consent. (A 2019 article in the Sunday Times in the U.K. also said Pornhub was flooded with illegal content.)

Shortly after the New York Times article, MasterCard banned the use of its cards on Pornhub when an internal investigation found “violations of our standards prohibiting unlawful content,” the company said. Visa suspended the use of its cards across MindGeek’s properties, but later reinstated access to sites offering “professionally produced adult studio content.” Visa said in late December its suspension for Pornhub and other MindGeek sites hosting user-generated content remained in effect pending an ongoing investigation.

Pornhub initially called allegations that it profits from illegal material “irresponsible and flagrantly untrue,” but has since made numerous changes to its operations. The company banned uploads from non-verified users and removed millions of videos that have been uploaded by such accounts over the years. The company said it would introduce a new user verification process this year, and grow its team of moderators to audit the site. In a blog post, Pornhub called these changes “the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history.”

Last month, the House of Commons ethics committee passed a motion introduced by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith requesting MindGeek executives appear before the committee early this year. Mr. Erskine-Smith said at the time politicians have an obligation to hold companies accountable when they “so incredibly failed to protect people.”

In December, 40 women from California sued MindGeek in a U.S. court alleging the company knew or should have known that one of its partners, known as GirlsDoPorn, regularly used fraud or coerced women to appear in videos. The lawsuit alleges that MindGeek did not end its partnership with the company until its operators were indicted in the U.S. in 2019.

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