WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
As Stephen Mitchell Sr. began delivering the eulogy at the funeral of his 21-year-old son and namesake last April in Toronto, he acknowledged his family’s deep grief over their sudden loss.
“This is going to be really hard,” he said. He remembered Stephen Jr. as a “great young man” who “would literally give you the shirt off his back.”
“We miss him terribly,” Stephen Sr. recently said.
Stephen Jr. died by suicide on March 25. His name is one of 14 listed in Ontario court documents as belonging to victims of Kenneth Law.
Law is charged with counselling or aiding suicide, after Peel Regional Police say he operated a network of online businesses selling a toxic substance and other paraphernalia for more than two years.
Official records and statements, media reports and interviews with families suggest Law’s products may be linked to 116 deaths worldwide.
Authorities in at least six provinces and multiple countries are working to determine if sudden deaths in their jurisdictions may be connected to Law, who previously worked as a cook at a downtown Toronto hotel.
He is scheduled on Wednesday to make a brief court appearance in Newmarket, Ont., by video conference from a detention centre.
Stephen Mitchell Jr. remembered as ‘super intelligent’
At Stephen Mitchell Jr.’s funeral, his father described him as “super intelligent with a keen intellect.” Stephen Jr. impressed others with his ability to recall past events in great detail.
From his teenage years onward, his father said Stephen Jr. also silently suffered from depression. “He did not want to be a trouble to anyone,” his father said, “especially to me.”
Other families, too, have described their loved ones’ struggles with mental health in the years leading up to their deaths. After Law was arrested in May, police said he’d sold his products “to individuals at risk of self-harm.”
David Smith, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Peel Dufferin branch, previously told CBC News the case highlights the need for support services.
“To see someone who might be undermining that by promoting … suicide as a way to feel better is really hard to watch,” he said.
Probes in other provinces, internationally
Investigators have said Law sent 1,200 packages to 40 countries, including to roughly 30 clients in France and as many as 272 in Britain.
Police in Zurich, Switzerland, have told CBC News they suspect one death may be connected to Law. The public prosecutor’s in Nuremberg-Furth, Germany, said they haven’t determined with certainty that two suicides since November 2021 are linked to a toxic salt sent from Canada.
The two previously unreported probes in Europe highlight the scale of the multinational investigations into Law’s operations, involving authorities from the U.S. to New Zealand.
In light of the case, police in Brandon, Man., said they would review all unexplained deaths and confirmed suicides in the past two years. Calgary police said they’ve been in touch with Crown prosecutors and are awaiting toxicology results related to two sudden deaths.
York Regional Police Insp. Simon James, who is coordinating the sprawling Ontario portion of the investigation, said Law’s alleged victims in the province range in age from 16 to 36.
A charge sheet obtained by CBC News suggests Law’s last known alleged victim died on May 2, the same day Law was arrested.
Two young men, Toronto’s Stephen Mitchell Jr. and Ashtyn Prosser from Windsor, Ont., died within five days of each other in March.
“Mental illness is just as real as physical illness,” Stephen Mitchell Sr. said at his son’s funeral. The consequences, he warned, “can be just as devastating.”
Accused will fight charges, lawyer says
Law, 58, remains in custody after waiving his right to a bail hearing. No date has been set for the start of his trial.
His lawyer, Matthew Gourlay, said the charges are based on a “novel interpretation of the law.”
“To my knowledge, in Canada there has never been a prosecution for (counselling or aiding suicide) where the conduct in question is selling an otherwise-legal product on the open market,” he said in an email.
Police allege Law sold high-purity nitrite. The substance is commonly used in food preparation in lower concentrations, but can prove lethal when ingested in pure form.
“Mr. Law does intend to defend against these charges,” Gourlay said.
If you have a news tip related to this story, contact CBC News senior reporter Thomas Daigle by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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