POLITICS

Police should have said Halifax man in chemicals case couldn't make bomb: lawyer

05/07/2015 09:37 EDT | Updated 05/07/2016 05:59 EDT
HALIFAX - Police should have informed the public they knew a stockpile of chemicals that led to evacuations in two cities lacked key bomb ingredients, says a defence lawyer representing the man who was arrested in the high-profile case.

Mike Taylor was referring Thursday to one of several court exhibits released in the case of 42-year-old Christopher Phillips, who has been charged with uttering threats and possessing a weapon — the hazardous chemical osmium tetroxide.

Phillips and Taylor briefly appeared in Nova Scotia Supreme Court to confirm a judge-only trial is set for June 1.

An exhibit released to The Canadian Press contains an analysis by forensics expert Melanie Brochu, who wrote that chemicals police found in Phillips' cottage in Grand Desert, N.S., didn't include the ingredients needed for homemade explosives.

"Although some chemicals could be used as reagents to make explosives, I did not see all the requisite precursors typically required to actually make homemade explosives," Brochu wrote in a report entry dated Jan. 22 — the day after Phillips' arrest.

"Advised the incident commander that the labeled chemical products personally observed via live video stream did not corroborate the suspect was making homemade explosives."

The rural community around the cottage was evacuated, as were neighbourhoods in Halifax and the hotel where Phillips was taken into custody in Ottawa.

Chief Supt. Roland Wells said at a news conference on Jan. 23 that the chemicals in Grand Desert were stacked from floor to ceiling and many were unstable and there was "an extreme fire risk" due to the volatility of the chemicals.

The RCMP said in an emailed comment Thursday that Wells didn't know about Brochu's analysis at the time of his news conference, and "the processing of the scene by RCMP and Halifax Fire was not complete until two days later."

"Comments made with respect to the volatility of the chemicals were indicative of the storage state of the chemicals. They were not referencing what could be made by combining them," said the email.

Taylor says the lack of ingredients for bombs should have been conveyed to help reduce public anxieties.

"I absolutely think they should have let the public know that there wasn't that risk," he said.

"It created a lot of unnecessary anxiety. It created a picture of Mr. Phillips and the whole situation that was not accurate."

Phillips has since testified that he owned the chemicals to extract heavy metals and was running a chemical business.

The exhibits also contain an email Phillips wrote to a friend in the United States about how he would like to send him a container of highly toxic osmium tetroxide as "the ultimate Christmas present."

The email says the container would include instructions that it is "to be used only in the event of forceful entry by the police."

The instructions suggest poking a hole in the vial with a stick and throwing "entire box at any police officer that has decided to take up residence on your property."

In the next paragraph, Phillips says he realizes his email could be stored and adds, "and I do ... stress that the box will not be designed to actually be used as a weapon."

Taylor said outside court the email is the key element in the Crown's case, and he will argue strongly it doesn't amount to a criminal offence.

"There are a couple of comments in this email that I can point to that suggest this isn't even close to an actual threat being made by Mr. Phillips," he said.

However, the Crown has argued there are reasonable grounds to continue the case against the former U.S. citizen, who has been in a provincial jail since his arrest.

Phillips was denied bail in a hearing on March 17 due to a lack of suitable guarantor and he remains in jail in Yarmouth, N.S.

Defence lawyers routinely ask for publication bans on bail hearings, which judges must grant upon their request.

But in Phillips' case, Taylor told the judge he did not want such a ban on the exhibits - including the email, and the memo written by Brochu.