A human trafficker who violently forced two young women into sex work, supplied them with drugs and made them tattoo his nickname on their bodies to prove their “loyalty” had a year cut off his sentence because of the “deplorable” conditions he endured in two Toronto jails.

The Toronto judge went so far as to recommend the man be relocated to a jail outside the city for the remainder of his sentence because the treatment he faced in custody for the past three years was “unconscionable and beneath the standards we claim to uphold in this democracy.”

Simon Ho-On, now 24, degraded, dehumanized and brutally beat two women, one of them a Toronto university student, Superior Court Justice Michael Quigley said in his reasons for sentence.

Pimps such as Ho-On are “parasites, they prey on vulnerable members of our society for their own personal pleasure and financial gain,” Quigley said.

Both victims experienced “significant and intense pain from the reprehensible conduct of this offender, pain that I am certain will leave both visible and invisible scars that will always be present,” Quigley said.

While an eight-and-a-half years was a fit sentence in this case, Quigley said he was cutting that to seven years and three months, sparing Ho-On prison time as he will have less than two years left to serve.

The prosecution was seeking a total sentence of 10 years; defence suggested a five-to-six year sentence was appropriate.

In February 2019, Ho-On was arrested and charged with more than 30 human trafficking offences relating to three complainants. In January this year, he pleaded guilty to six counts, including advertising sexual services and assault connected to two victims. He is still facing a judge-alone trial this December involving a minor complainant.

Quigley summarized the aggravating factors in the case, which he described as “voluminous.” He covered Ho-On’s violence, including threatening the women at knifepoint, and his humiliating treatment of the women who both believed they were in romantic relationships with him. He posted compromising photos of them on the internet and plied them with illicit drugs as part of his “skilful manipulation,” Quigley said.

When one woman decided to leave she said Ho-on threatened to pour alcohol on her and light her on fire, Quigley said.

In a pre-sentence report, Ho-On indicated that when he got involved in this criminal activity at 20, “it was during a time of my life where I didn’t have anything going on. It was around me; was a norm in the city at the time, so I said why not give it a try?”

The judge also found mitigating circumstances. Ho-On was just 20 when he committed his crimes and these are his first criminal convictions. He also faced hardships, trauma and mental health challenges throughout his life, Quigley noted. Ho-On has participated in jailhouse programming, where he finished high school and is developing life skills to help him live a prosocial life once he is released from custody, the judge said.

In his ruling Quigley repeatedly zeroed in on the harsh conditions and number of lockdowns at the Toronto South Detention Centre, which “have been widely recognized and condemned by this Court on numerous prior occasions.” The Toronto East Detention Centre also came under fire.

Quigley cited a 2020 decision by a fellow judge who observed that improving the environment and carceral conditions in Ontario penal institutions is just not presently a priority of any kind for this provincial government.

At the end of his reasons for sentence, Quigley took the unusual step of asking that Ho-On be permitted to serve the remainder of his sentence at a correctional facility outside Toronto where he can receive mental health assessments, treatment and training “that I believe he will need before he is returned to the community upon his release.”

The judge added later, that while he acknowledged judges don’t have much sway with corrections, he asked defence and the prosecutor to press the need to have Ho-On relocated.

Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy