Nova Scotia

Christopher Phillips, accused in chemical scare, begins trial

The man at the centre of a January chemical scare begins his trial today in Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Monday morning the court heard excerpts from emails between Phillips and his wife.

Christopher Phillips told wife he was suffering from PTSD and wanted to come home

Christopher Phillips is charged with threatening police and possessing a dangerous weapon. (Facebook)

The trial of the man at the centre of a January chemical scare began today in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, with testimony from an RCMP officer who said Christopher Phillips was considered a threat to public safety.

Phillips, 42, is accused of uttering threats against police and one count of possession of a dangerous weapon — the chemical osmium tetroxide. The chemical can be absorbed through skin and can be lethal.

Phillips has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On Monday morning, RCMP Sgt. Lisa Stuart spent two hours testifying about the contents of emails sent to and from Phillips. She said police came to the conclusion that Phillips was considered a threat based on long,
rambling emails from him that were turned over to police by Phillips's wife in late January.

In one email to his wife, Phillips said he asked a friend to bring a hazmat suit so he could safely allow osmium tetroxide to evaporate.

The emails also included personal comments. One from Jan. 17 started with, "Hello my love," and Phillips asked his wife to apologize to their daughter for missing her birthday.

Another email said he went on vacation because his wife wanted her mother to attend their daughter's birthday party and he was afraid they would fight. He said he possessed no weapons and wasn't psychotic, promising he could be a better husband and father in the future.

Arrested on Jan. 21

In a Jan. 19 email, his wife told Phillips she was afraid he would do something dangerous and she was asking police to remove chemicals. She also asked him to go to the United States to get help.

The next day, Phillips wrote back saying he wasn't angry that she called police. He said he wouldn't go to the U.S. because he didn't have a passport.

His email said he regretted ever hearing of osmium tetroxide, which he claimed he wanted to put in vials to sell. He says he put the chemical in a polyvinyl chloride tube as a safety precaution and packed it in vermiculite to absorb any possible leakage.

Phillip also sent his wife videos about post traumatic stress disorder, asking for understanding because he was suffering. He told her he felt like a fragile child and needed space. He also asked her if he could come home, saying he loved her and their kids with all his heart.

Stuart testified that on Jan. 20, police were trying to locate Phillips and felt there was a great deal of risk to the public and police.

He was arrested on Jan. 21 after driving from Nova Scotia to Ottawa. Police located Phillips in a hotel room and they had to remove and decontaminate him.

Email may have sparked manhunt

Police searched a cottage Phillips owned in Grand Desert, N.S., and say it was filled with chemicals in various states of degradation.

A search warrant shows police had a long list of materials they were searching for including uranium, a pipe bomb and other explosives, but only osmium tetroxide is included in the charges.

Today Stuart testified police seized vials of osmium tetroxide in a box, and that there was no immediate risk with how it was stored. 

Stuart also told the court she described Phillips as a biochemical weapons specialist because she heard from Phillips' wife that he was in the military and had worked with chemicals.

RCMP Cpl. Ron Robinson, one of four explosive disposal and hazardous devices technicians in Canada, testified he was called to the cottage and garage in Grand Desert to dispose of a possible pipe bomb and other potentially explosive material.

He said the suspected pipe bomb was not a bomb and wasn't considered harmful. The team did find a large amount of unknown chemicals at the property, some of which were labelled, Robinson told the court. He also testified police found nothing radioactive, although they did find a heavy lead container that is used to transport radioactive material.

In April, Phillips sent CBC News a packet of material that included a printout of the email that appears to have triggered the nationwide manhunt and chemical weapons scare in January.

In it, he tells a friend about building a display case to contain a vial of osmium tetroxide. There's no indication the case was ever built.

Phillips's wife forwarded the email to the RCMP.