POLITICS

'Unstable' chemicals stacked floor to ceiling at Halifax cottage: RCMP

01/23/2015 08:13 EST | Updated 03/25/2015 05:59 EDT
HALIFAX - Investigators have found chemicals in a variety of containers stacked floor to ceiling inside a cottage and shed, some of which are "unstable," the RCMP said Friday as the man accused in the case appeared in court.

Chief Supt. Roland Wells of the Halifax RCMP provided an update Friday on their investigation into the discovery of chemicals in the community of Grand Desert that have led to the arrest of a 42-year-old man.

"Within the cottage is a variety of containers filled with chemicals stacked from floor to ceiling. Many of these chemicals are unstable, so we must use extreme caution and care," Wells told a news conference at the Cole Harbour RCMP detachment.

"It's extremely complex — unlabelled chemicals piled from floor to ceiling, some inside fridges, some inside other appliances."

Wells said it appears there are dozens of different chemicals in various states of degradation and chemists from the RCMP and Health Canada are trying to determine what they are.

"Common sense would tell you that if these chemicals were degrading, it's probably been some time that it's been there," said Wells. "I don't know that I've seen a more complex investigation in terms of public safety and things we're not used to dealing with.

"It will be a long process as we sample, then destroy ... and do the environmental assessments. There's a lot to be done."

Wells said once investigators determine what the chemicals are, they can then try to determine what they were doing in the cottage.

"There are many, many chemicals on the market that somebody can have for a legitimate industrial purpose, but if misused, then that takes on a whole different scenario," said Wells.

His comments came before Christopher Burton Phillips appeared briefly in Dartmouth provincial court on charges of uttering threats and possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose.

Crown attorney Perry Borden said he wants to ask for a psychiatric assessment to determine fitness to stand trial. Legal aid defence lawyer Jill Lacey asked for time to prepare a response to the application.

Judge Flora Buchan adjourned the case until Thursday and Phillips was remanded into custody.

Phillips, wearing a sports hoodie with the letters "UCD" on the front, showed no emotion as he looked around the courtroom.

Outside court, Borden said if an assessment for fitness to stand trial is granted, it could take 20 to 30 days to complete.

Borden said he is asking to keep Phillips in jail due to the serious nature of the charges.

"My understanding of the (chemical) substance is that it's extremely hazardous," he said.

Borden said the uttering threats charge stemmed from comments Phillips allegedly directed widely at any police officer about not coming onto his property.

"It's directed at people in blue uniforms ... in relation to protection of one's property," he said.

The prosecutor described Phillips as "a scientist" but couldn't comment further on his expertise.

"There's innuendo in the file he's looking at extracting metals from substances. So I presume without being a scientist myself that some of the chemicals could be used for extracting precious metals," said Borden.

Phillip's legal aid defence lawyer declined comment.

The RCMP brought Phillips back to Nova Scotia from Ottawa on Thursday after he was arrested a day earlier at a hotel that had to be evacuated.

Police allege in a sworn information at provincial court that Phillips, a former U.S. resident, threatened a police officer and possessed osmium tetroxide, a highly toxic chemical.

The document alleges the offences took place between Boxing Day and Wednesday in Cole Harbour, a suburb of Halifax.

Evacuations were ordered Tuesday in the Cole Harbour and Grand Desert communities of Halifax as a result of the investigation.

Wells said the evacuation at the Grand Desert site will remain in effect until the site is safe.

That area is at an "extreme fire risk" due to the volatility of the chemicals found there, Wells said.

Ottawa police arrested Phillips at the Chimo Hotel and linked the arrest to the discovery of the chemicals in Halifax.