Alleged threat to harm police with chemical was meant as private joke: lawyer

HALIFAX — An alleged threat by a Halifax man to hurl a box containing a poisonous chemical at police was an absurd mix of contradictions that amounted to a joke, a defence lawyer argued Friday in closing arguments before the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Mike Taylor told Justice David MacAdam that Christopher Phillips’s emailed comments to a friend in the United States about throwing a vial of osmium tetroxide were too ridiculous to represent serious intent.

Phillips — whose arrest on Jan. 21 in an Ottawa hotel generated national headlines — has pleaded not guilty to uttering threats and possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes.

His apprehension came after police found a large stockpile of his chemicals in two locations in Nova Scotia, leading to evacuations of people living near the storage areas.

Crown attorney Karen Quigley said in her submission that a police investigator involved in what started as a routine check viewed the email and perceived it as threatening.

But Taylor said the wording of the email showed there was no criminal intent.

He said its text suggests Phillips would simultaneously poke a hole in a glass vial with osmium tetroxide as police enter the premises, while putting on a hazardous materials suit and holding his breath.

The email goes on to refer to a tiny stick used to poke the hole in the small vial becoming a walking stick that would be used by the accused for the rest of his life.

In addition, the email speaks of the container being screwed to a credenza, which Taylor said would make it impossible to throw.

“How can that possibly be construed to be a serious comment or as an instruction to carry out some kind of attack on police … It’s almost ridiculous to make those kinds of comments unless you’re joking,” said Taylor.

Taylor said the most serious part of the email was when Phillips writes he would never actually use osmium tetroxide to harm a police officer or human.

The lawyer cited one passage in the email, where Phillips writes, “Please understand it would require some really stupid or insane effort to actually turn this hypothesis into a theory.”

Quigley said in her closing arguments that Phillips seemed to have the osmium for a threatening purpose.

She cited a statement Phillips gave to police where he mused about how owning osmium tetroxide was similar to possessing a weapon one voluntarily chooses not use.

The email to Phillips’s friend was provided to the Halifax police by the accused’s wife Gosia Phillips after she contacted them on Jan. 19 to ask for the removal of osmium tetroxide.

She has testified she was worried her children might find it.

The prosecutor said she didn’t hear any clear evidence on why Phillips was collecting the rare and expensive chemical, which can be toxic to humans if they touch or ingest it.

Taylor says his client made clear he owned it for experiments and because it was considered a novelty among chemists.

Christopher Phillips has been in jail since his Jan. 21 arrest after he was unable to find a guarantor that satisfied a provincial court judge.

 

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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