Warning: this story contains graphic details about sexual assault.
Ontario's social services minister Lisa MacLeod said her government will crack down on the "dangerous and violent criminals" behind sex trafficking, an issue she calls the province's "dirty little secret."
MacLeod shared real stories of teenage girls coerced into the sex trade with a room full of politicians, students, and business leaders at the Canadian Club of Toronto on Thursday.
"For MacKenzie, 10 days was all it took. From hanging out with her friend who lured her as a young teenager to a party, to be coerced, drugged, sold around within a gang and raped so badly that she had to wear a diaper for weeks after escaping and couldn't walk without shuffling."
MacLeod said that two friends — a detective in the Durham region and an advocate for survivors of trafficking — shared these details with her. She made a point of mentioning that some of the girls come from "the wealthiest communities in Canada."
For MacKenzie, 10 days was all it took.Lisa MacLeod
MacLeod said this speech was meant to aid the public's understanding of sex trafficking, but noted she plans to take action.
The Criminal Code needs to change so that sex trafficking and human smuggling are more clearly differentiated, MacLeod said.
MacLeod is co-chairing a task force on sex trafficking with federal Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef. The Ontario government and the federal Liberals plan to cooperate on this issue despite their political differences, she said.
A year from now, MacLeod says she hopes the task force will have a "robust" report and next steps.
MacLeod still made time for a few digs at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his approach to gender equality, however.
She started by saying that she could have delivered a speech full of "flowery language," "platitudes" and self-congratulation, but chose the "more difficult and contemplative" take.
"A quota cabinet and gender parity is irrelevant to a sex slave," she said, referencing Trudeau's move to appoint an equal number of female and male cabinet ministers.
MacLeod also mentioned Trudeau, who was accused of groping a reporter, in the same sentence as Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of rape and decades of sexual harassment and intimidation that included death threats, as well as former broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi, who has been accused of choking and slapping women.
The issue of sex trafficking is more important than any #MeToo allegation, she said.
"This is much more serious than a hashtag. While #MeToo and #TimesUp are important social movements that have shed light on horrible circumstances that women have faced, sex trafficking is taking place right now, in this city, throughout Ontario," MacLeod said.
"It's organized. It's covert. And it's extremely profitable for violent criminals."
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