Accused in chemicals case had enough materials to make homemade explosives: RCMP

HALIFAX — An RCMP forensic scientist says the Halifax man at the centre of a high-profile chemical scare that led to evacuations in two cities had enough chemicals stored in a shed to make 11 different types of explosives.

Melanie Brochu, testifying Tuesday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, said Christopher Phillips had the materials but did not appear to be making any explosives when she examined hundreds of bottles and jars stored near a cottage east of Halifax.

Phillips is charged with threatening police officers and possessing a weapon – the hazardous chemical osmium tetroxide – for a dangerous purpose. That chemical was found in another shed near Phillips’s home in the Halifax area.

On Jan. 19, Phillips’s wife told police she was worried about his mental health and that she feared for the safety of her family because he possessed a large stockpile of chemicals and was talking about enriching uranium.

Neighbourhoods in Halifax and Grand Desert, N.S., were subsequently evacuated as police moved in to search the two properties. Phillips was arrested Jan. 21 in an Ottawa hotel after it was evacuated by police, but no chemicals were found there.

Brochu testified that osmium tetroxide is a toxic, corrosive chemical that can be deadly if swallowed. She said it is normally used as a biological stain when examining cells under a microscope. It also can be used as an oxidizing agent or as a fertilizer, she said.

The scientist testified that the chemicals in the shed in Grand Desert were difficult to assess because many of the containers were labelled with an alpha-numeric code that gave no indication of what was inside.

As well, she said the chemicals in Grand Desert were stored improperly because there was inadequate ventilation and no temperature controls in the shed. None of the chemicals were accompanied by the required Material Safety Data Sheets, she said, citing standard laboratory practice.

That was also the case for the shed in Cole Harbour where the osmium tetroxide was found in a box, Brochu said, adding that the chemical — some of it found in liquid form — could have frozen and ruptured the ampules it was in.

However, Phillips has not been charged with improper storage of chemicals. Defence lawyer Mike Taylor has stressed that his client purchased the osmium tetroxide legally, and that he had far less than the legal limit in his possession — 230 millilitres in liquid form and 31 grams in solid form.

Earlier in the day, the court heard from a Halifax police officer who read from letters and emails Phillips had sent to a media outlet while he was being held in custody.

In one letter, Phillips asserts that the charges against him are “baseless,” saying police have misconstrued a private email he sent to a friend in which he says he wants to construct a special display box for a vial of osmium tetroxide.

“I would never harm an … animal, a plant or even a police officer with something as terribly toxic as osmium tetroxide,” Phillips wrote in the email, which went on to describe how the box could be used as a weapon.

“Throw entire box at any police officer that has decided to take up residence on your property. While still holding your breath, run like hell.”

In his letter to the media outlet, Phillips says that he never made a direct threat to police. As well, he says  his freedom of speech has been violated and he stresses that he obtained the chemicals legally.

“The charges against me are ridiculous,” the letter says.

In the rambling letter, Phillips suggests he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and there are vague references to a stabbing and a sexual assault years ago.

The Canadian Press