Nova Scotia

Christopher Phillips email describes uses for osmium tetroxide

CBC News has obtained the document at the centre of the case against Christopher Phillips, the Nova Scotia man arrested at an Ottawa hotel earlier this year: an email he sent to a friend describing how he could use a highly toxic chemical.

Nova Scotia man arrested at Ottawa hotel forwarded email to CBC

Christopher Phillips was returned to Nova Scotia, and was escorted to a waiting police car at Halifax Stanfield International Airport in January after his arrest at an Ottawa hotel. He is charged with threatening police and possessing a dangerous weapon, and is scheduled to go to trial in Supreme Court in June. (CBC)

CBC News has obtained the document at the centre of the case against Christopher Phillips, the Nova Scotia man arrested at an Ottawa hotel earlier this year: an email he sent to a friend describing how he could use a highly toxic chemical.

It was the email, forwarded to RCMP by Phillips's estranged wife, that had led to the massive police operation earlier this year. Christopher Phillips himself recently mailed a copy of the email to CBC. 

The 42-year-old Cole Harbour man has been in custody in a Dartmouth, N.S., jail since his arrest. He is charged with threatening police and possessing a dangerous weapon, and is scheduled to go to trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in June.

Police say the weapon is the osmium tetroxide, which can be absorbed through the skin and can be lethal.

Phillips, who had been a biochemical weapons specialist, is reportedly legally allowed to possess osmium tetroxide, and had a quantity of the chemical on his property at the time of his arrest in January, after he had driven there from Halifax.

Police evacuated the hotel and the area surrounding his Cole Harbour home as they searched for Phillips.

They later determined the Ottawa trip had nothing to do with the weapons or threat charges against him.

Police have said a cottage and a shed that Phillips owned in the coastal community of Grand Desert, N.S., were filled with chemicals in various states of degradation.

They had started searching for Phillips after his wife forwarded them an email that he had written to a friend. Phillips himself has now forwarded that email to CBC.

In it, he jokes with his friend about a Christmas gift he would like to make him, and talks about his stockpile of osmium tetroxide.

A hazmat unit removes items from a cottage linked to Nova Scotia resident Christopher Phillips, a biochemical weapons specialist at the time of his arrest at an Ottawa hotel. (Molly Segal/CBC)

"After all," Phillips writes, "there are some chemicals, legal as them (sic) may be, that not even I would sell to a stranger on eBay."

Later in the email, Phillips writes "While I would never harm a human, an animal, a plant, or even a police officer with something as terribly toxic as osmium tetroxide, you and I both know that evidence is only an optional element required for conviction of a crime."

In the 2½-page email, Phillips describes the Christmas gift he'd like to make.

"I am talking a sizable lump of pure osmium tetroxide, fully encased in an impermeable glass vial for all the world to see."

Email includes instructions

Phillips describes encasing the vial in a display box made of black granite, stainless steel or a form of glass, and says he would etch on the surface of the box something like the following:

"Instructions: 

  1. To be used only in the event of forceful entry by the police.
  2. Hold Breath (very important).
  3. Poke glass vial with stick, preferably while wearing full hazmat protective gear.
  4. Throw entire box at any police officer that has decided to take up residence on your property.
  5. While still holding your breath, run like hell.
  6. If you are lucky you will have died like the rest of them.
  7. If you are unlucky, and as a result of complete blindness, you will run into a wall while trying to get the f--k out and will likely need the aforementioned stick to get around for the rest of your life."

Phillips writes that he would add an additional etching on the bottom of the box: "Osmium Tetroxide — A billionaire's weapon of terror."

Phillips's lawyer, Mike Taylor, has described the email as a joke between friends.

In it, Phillips writes:

  • "I do wish to stress that the box will not be designed to be actually used as a weapon. It is more about the satisfaction of knowing that you have that sort of immense power and the satisfaction of knowing that there is not a chance in hell that ANYONE would ever figure that shit out."

Email forwarded to RCMP

Nowhere in the email does Phillips name any particular police officer, or even a specific police force. There is also no evidence the box or vial of osmium tetroxide was ever constructed.

Gosia Phillips, who is separated from her husband, had forwarded the email to RCMP, setting off the manhunt and the arrest.

She had offered to act as his surety so he could be released from jail. But since she wasn't willing to live with Phillips, the judge rejected her offer as unsatisfactory.

In a letter to CBC, Christopher Phillips writes that his case is "not at all about threats. This case is about something near and dear to both of us — freedom of speech."

About the Author

Blair Rhodes

Reporter

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca

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