POLITICS

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

06/12/2015 10:43 EDT | Updated 06/12/2016 05:59 EDT
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 fellow chemist in the United States about throwing a vial of osmium tetroxide were too ridiculous to be seen as a serious threat.

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 arrest came after police found a large stockpile of his chemicals in a cottage and in a shed next to his home, 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 Dec. 27, 2014 email and perceived it as threatening officers.

She also said the email should be considered along with other factors, such as testimony from Phillips's wife that her husband's mental health was deteriorating before he abruptly departed in a cube van bound for Ottawa.

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

He said its text suggests a person could somehow poke a hole in a glass vial with osmium tetroxide as police entered their home, while the person donned a hazardous materials suit and held their 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 later be used by the person who throws the container.

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 wouldn't actually use osmium tetroxide to harm a police officer or human.

The defence 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 by breaking the vial."

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 a judge rejected a proposal for Gosia Phillips to act as his guarantor and put up his bail.

The judge said he will provide a decision in the case on June 24.

The maximum penalty for uttering a threat against police with a dangerous weapon is five years in jail.