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'It just can't be that easy': Man speaks out after linking brother's suicide to alleged sodium nitrite salesman Kenneth Law

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Editor’s note: If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health there are a number of ways to get help, including by calling or texting Suicide Crisis Helpline at 9-8-8. A list of local crisis centres is also available here.

The brother of an American man who died after consuming a product linked to accused suicide salesman Kenneth Law says he hopes more countries will follow the lead of Canadian legislators in considering stricter laws meant to protect vulnerable internet users. 

“It just can’t be that easy,” Gerald Cohn, 38, told CTV News Toronto in an interview from the U.S. “All he had to do was go to one website, and it was so easy to access.”

From there, Cohn said his brother, Benji Cohn, fell into a “dark, dark” community – one where he could access forums to discuss suicide and even purchase products that could aid in taking his own life.

Benji died in February 2023 at the age of 34 after ingesting a lethal amount of sodium nitrite, toxicology results showed.

Benji Cohn can be seen alongside his mother in his photo, provided by Gerald Cohn.

He's among a growing number of individuals across the world who have died after purchasing products from companies allegedly connected to Law, facing 14 of first-degree murder and 14 of aiding and abetting suicide.

Investigators previously said they believe Law sent more than 1,200 packages that may have contained instruments for suicide to as many as 40 countries. Police said that approximately 160 of those packages were sent to addresses in Canada.

Counsel for Law has said he plans to plead not guilty at a not-yet scheduled trial and that he’s not responsible for what customers did with the products they purchased.

The case comes as the federal government debates the proposed "Online Harms Act,” a Bill that, if passed, would create obligations for online platforms meant to reduce exposure to harmful content.

READ MORE: Who is supporting, opposing new online harms bill?

While the website accessed by Benji has been banned in Australia and Italy, it is still accessible in Canada and could be impacted by the new legislation, specifically sections targeting “content that induces a child to harm themselves.”

That’s a start, Cohn said, but he also feels strongly that vulnerable people of all ages need those protections as well.

‘Always checking in on others’

Looking back on the years before Benji’s death, Cohn said his brother was a caring and attentive friend, but struggled to be open about his own mental health challenges.

“He was always checking in on others, but he never really checked in on himself,” Cohn said. “He didn't want to openly talk about some of his struggles because he was afraid of how people were going to perceive him – unfortunately, all that bottling up really began to eat at him.”

That’s when Benji turned to the online forums, Cohn explained; “It was a community for him.”

After Benji’s death, detectives told Cohn he’d left a note, explaining how to access his cellphone. But for three months, Cohn had to wait for the phone to be released by investigators and returned.

“I actually don’t remember those 90 days. It was just anxiety, and waiting, waiting, waiting,” he said.

Benji (Centre) and Gerald (left) Cohn can be seen alongside their mother (right) in a photo provided by the family.

When the phone was returned, and in the hands of Cohn, he found his brother’s account, still logged into the online forums.

“I spent all night looking at browser history, email, you know, text messages, and that's when I saw he was logged in to the website and people were telling him to purchase [sodium nitrate],” he said.

His research led him to find receipts, reviewed by CTV News Toronto, of products purchased from companies connected to Law. When he typed Law’s name into Google, he was met with reports that a Mississauga, Ont. resident had been arrested and charged in connection with more than a dozen deaths across Ontario.

While it may be too late for many of those who lost their lives after purchasing products allegedly sold by Law, Cohn hopes that legislation like that currently being considered in Canada will soon be adopted widely.

“It was so easy [to access] everything on those forums – and I'm not even in a frame of mind where I want to end my life, so I can only imagine what it was like for someone like my brother, who was struggling and feeling so down,’ he said. “So yeah, something needs to be done.”

What’s next in the court case?

Law will next appear at the Newmarket, Ont. Superior Court of Justice on March 22.

Denied bail, Law has not appeared for his last two court dates, citing illness and medical isolation. For next month’s hearing, he has been court-ordered to appear in person.

There, the court will consider his assets as part of a Rowbotham application, which could see the government foot the bill for his legal defence if approved.

A Rowbotham application can be sought if an individual has been denied Legal Aid, lawyer Alison Craig, not connected to Law’s case, explained to CTV News Toronto.

“It's pretty common,” Craig said. “Legal Aid can deny people funding for all sorts of different reasons – for example, if you're not facing jail time, which isn’t the case here, or if you are below a certain financial threshold.”

News of the application is met with “a tug of war” for Cohn.

“It's a little bit hard for me to wrap my head around, but I do know the right thing is to have a fair trial and hopefully justice will be served one way or another,” he said.

When asked what he wants those paying attention to Law’s case to take away, Cohn underlined the importance of openness and transparency when it comes to mental health.

“There are ways to bring these things up and talk about them with the people you love, because you don’t want to live with the guilt that, unfortunately, I am struggling with,” he said.

“Don’t keep quiet about it.” 

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