Police investigating reports Ontario man ran website selling chemical used in recent U.K. suicides
Peel Regional Police badge. (The Canadian Press Images/Francis Vachon)
Published Thursday, April 27, 2023 6:33PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 27, 2023 8:56PM EDT
Warning: This article contains references to suicide. Reader discretion is advised.
Police are investigating reports that a Toronto area man has allegedly been selling a lethal, but legal, poison online reportedly used in a number of suicides, including the 2022 death of a 22-year-old university student overseas.
Peel Regional Police confirmed to CTV News Toronto they are aware of the reports and are conducting an investigation into the online sale of sodium nitrite. A spokesperson for the service said further details could not be provided.
The Times of London first reported earlier this week that seven deaths by suicide, including four in the U.K. and three in the U.S., had been linked to sodium nitrite sold on a website run by GTA resident Kenneth Law through a business registered to a Mississauga post office box.
Sodium nitrite is a preservative used in meat processing. The chemical is safely used in meat preparation for products where it is used, in small amounts, to cure the meat. In larger doses, the compound is lethal.
Recently, researchers in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., have warned about a recent increase in deaths by suicide involving sodium nitrite.
It remains unclear what charges, if any, might be laid in this case. It is illegal in both the U.K. and Canada to intentionally assist suicide, carrying a sentence of up to 14 years in prison in both countries.
CTV News has attempted to contact Law but did not receive a response before publication. On Wednesday, Law denied to The Globe and Mail that he was targeting buyers who wished to die by suicide and claimed he was being misrepresented.
Tom Parfett took his life while studying philosophy at St. Andrew’s University last fall.
“[He was] a lovely man, very sweet, kind, loving,” David Parfett, Tom’s father, told CTV News. “But as you can imagine, he had his own challenges.”
David says his son was struggling with anxiety at the time – something his friends and family were trying to help him with.
But, on a Canadian website, Tom was able to buy sodium nitrite in a lethal amount and kill himself, his father said.
“It's difficult to put into words,” David said. “You've got a man that is playing god with other people's lives, recklessly playing god.”
After Tom died, David wanted to see just how easy it was to find and buy these salts online and said he was able to purchase an amount from Kenneth Law. He says he received a small package, clearly labelled, shipped from Canada in a few days. It cost less than $100, he said.
Between 2019 and 2020, Ontario saw at least 23 sodium nitrite poisoning deaths, according to a 2021 study released by scientists from the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service.
Federal Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos, said the Canadian government is aware of the reports and is looking into the matter.
“I am certainly looking into this and certainly talking to my colleagues, other ministers of health, to ensure these products are managed in an appropriate manner,” Duclos said.
While Law’s website appears to now be offline, David said authorities were too slow to act.
“The existing authorities need to get a lot sharper and a lot better at identifying these things as they become popular,” he said.
In 2022, a group of U.S. parents launched a lawsuit accusing online retailer Amazon of selling sodium nitrite in pure concentrations despite warnings the chemical was being used in suicide attempts.