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Here’s why the world will be watching Kenneth Law's court battle

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 Talk Suicide Canada at 1-833-456-4566. A list of local crisis centres is also available here

The arrest of a Mississauga man has sent shockwaves through some of the darkest corners of the internet.

Kenneth Law, 57, is accused of selling over 1,200 kits to vulnerable people contemplating suicide around the world. Law’s alleged offerings, displayed on now-defunct websites with names like “Imtime Cuisine” and “Escape Mode,” ranged from sodium nitrite, a lethal substance which can kill humans in small doses, to flow regulators and gas masks.

An April investigation by the Times of London shoved Law into the international spotlight, leading to his eventual arrest by Peel police. The Times investigation caught Law on tape advising how to use his products, as well as assuring the reporter that “many, many people” had died taking sodium nitrite. Law later confirmed those details in-person when the Times spoke with him outside a post office in Mississauga.

Law was arrested by Peel police on May 2 and charged with two counts of counselling or aiding suicide. It’s possible more charges could follow from additional police jurisdictions – a Dutch man by the name of “Alex S.” was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison last week for similar charges in the Netherlands.

Over 40 countries and 11 Ontario police forces are now involved in the investigation against Law, who briefly appeared in court on Friday.

The prosecution of Kenneth Law is proving to be a flashpoint in two major online movements: the “pro-choice” suicide advocates, who run forums with detailed guides on how to take one’s own life, and the parents of children who lost their lives in part due to information gleaned from those sites, often with the help of people selling suicide devices online. CP24.com has studied these sites extensively, and Law’s alleged businesses were frequently recommended to at-risk users before his arrest in May.

It is still not clear when Law’s trial will begin, though whenever it does the proceedings are sure to garner interest well outside of the GTA’s borders. Here is why the world will be watching:

‘ONE OF THE WORST THINGS YOU COULD POSSIBLY DO’: ADVOCATES IN U.S., U.K.

Kelli Wilson and Catherine Adenekan, located in the U.S. and U.K. respectively, are both mothers of children who lost their lives after accessing pro-suicide forums.

They will be watching Law’s trial with a hope for justice – for their own sons and for the other children who have died due in no small part to businesses like the one Law is alleged to have operated.

“This trial is monumental in so many ways,” said Wilson. “These sites sell to vulnerable people. It’s aiding and abetting suicide, which is akin to murder.Law weaponized mentally ill people against themselves, and that can’t be allowed to continue. It’s a no-brainer. He needs to be held accountable for what he’s (allegedly) done. And the lawmakers, as well – they’ve facilitated these havens for crime.”

“What he’s (allegedly) done is one of the worst things you could possibly do,” added Adenekan. “The root cause of the problem, though, is [pro-suicide forums], which is how sellers like Law get their customers.

“We’re hoping that each and every person he has (allegedly) assisted will get justice for what he’s done,” she continued.

The charges against Law have not yet been tested in court. His lawyer did not return calls for comment about the case.

SODIUM NITRITE VICTIMS IN ITALY, NETHERLANDS, U.S.

Families of sodium nitrite victims around the world are looking to Law’s trial in the hopes it will mean justice for their own children. While others are believed to be selling the substance, the scope of Law’s alleged operation has poised the verdict in his trial to be significant for similar cases internationally.

“We are trying every day,” said a father in Italy. “The pain is so strong. It’s hard to forget about your son or daughter.”

The man, who asked not to be named, lost his son to sodium nitrite, and says an acquaintance lost their child to the same substance, allegedly purchased from Law, in May.

A package of sodium nitrite sold on one by one of various businesses in connection with Peel's investigation. (Peel Regional Police)

“Law’s case could be a legal precedent in the United States, and Europe,” he said. “That could help us continue to battle against the pro-suicide sites, and the free sale of poison.”

A bereaved mother in the Netherlands shared similar hopes for Law’s trial, saying “there are very bad things on the internet,” and that the verdict in the legal proceedings against Law could lead to the erasure of pro-suicide forums and chat rooms.

A mother in Illinois also lost her daughter to sodium nitrite late last year, and says she will be watching the trial with interest.

“This is a serious battle,” she said. “(Selling sodium nitrite to at-risk individuals) is one of the worst things you could do. This is disgusting, these sites where they tell people to take their own lives.”

‘THE ELON MUSK OF ASSISTED SUICIDE’

Philip Nitschke is an Australian advocate for assisted suicide, as well as a former physician. Dubbed by Newsweek “the Elon Musk of assisted suicide,” he is also the founder of a pro-euthanasia group for seniors, as well as the author of a lengthy guide on how to take one’s own life.

“It’s a fundamental human right,” he told CP24.

Nitschke says he first published details about sodium nitrite as a means of suicide in 2018, when the substance was freely available on sites like Amazon. American lawsuits against the retail giant briefly resulted in the substance being taken off the site, but a U.S. judge dismissed those suits late last month, rejecting the claim that Amazon had acted negligently in offering sodium nitrite on their site.

“In that context, [members of Nitschke’s pro-euthanasia group] became aware of this new source, Kenneth Law,” he alleged. “And many, many of our members bought from him.”

Nitschke added that many of his group’s members do not necessarily intend to take their own lives immediately, but instead prefer to keep substances like sodium nitrite on hand “just in case.”

“Our members are watching with great apprehension,” he said. “And our members are finding themselves the hapless subjects of wellness checks in the middle of the night by local police…which is very intimidating.”

While Nitschke advocates for seniors hoping to end their own lives, he says Law acted short-sightedly by allegedly selling sodium nitrite to younger individuals.

“Kenneth was being a little unrestrictive,” he said. “Elderly people have this idea that they should have a right to access the substances, but they’re not terribly sympathetic to the idea of teenagers going out there and buying a substance.”

Several of Law’s alleged customers were teenagers, and died after taking the sodium nitrite sent to them.

Despite that misgiving, Nitschke concedes the “real help” Law has done for members of his group.

“He’s helped them achieve their goals. We’re watching this trial with great interest.”

Law will next appear in court on Aug. 25.

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