Ottawa hotel chemical scare ended but the mystery behind U.S.-born suspect is growing


It was Christopher B. Phillips’ 42nd birthday when he emerged from the Chimo Hotel, where he had been holed up in a sixth-floor room, in handcuffs and a white HAZMAT suit just before 9 a.m. Wednesday.

But the mystery surrounding what brought him to Ottawa didn’t become clearer even as details of his high-profile life did.

The Nova Scotia man who made headlines for a public divorce from a decorated Olympian surrendered to Ottawa police Wednesday after driving across the eastern provinces with what authorities initially feared were dangerous chemicals.

Ultimately, police said they could not find any hazardous materials.

The highly educated man with careers spanning across respected professions — doctor, lawyer, chemist, businessman — left a mark across North America.

The United States’ Department of Homeland Security confirmed its Ottawa officer is assisting local police with the investigation, while Mounties from Nova Scotia were en route to the capital to interview the suspect.

It was about 10 p.m. on Tuesday when an Ottawa police officer spotted the white 2004 Chevy cube van in the parking lot of the Chimo Hotel. The RCMP had shared a Canada-wide bulletin to first responders and uniformed personnel about Mr. Phillips who was wanted in an investigation in Nova Scotia, where he lives.

The briefing note said Mr. Phillips was last seen Monday travelling from Moncton, N.B., driving a cube van with Nova Scotia licence plate FLK 572.

“Person reported to have mental health issues/PTSD and has issues with law-enforcement personnel,” the note said. “Person may have chemicals or hazardous materials in the vehicle.”

Police alleged Wednesday he was involved with the discovery of “large quantities” of chemicals in Nova Scotia.

The Ottawa Citizen has learned the chemical authorities were looking for — but failed to find in Ottawa — was osmium tetroxide — a rare and expensive laboratory chemical that stirred up brief interest as a possible terrorist weapon 11 years ago. Its fumes are toxic to humans.

Court records in that province show Mr. Phillips has been charged with uttering threats and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose for a period ranging between Dec. 26 of last year and Wednesday.

An arrest warrant was issued for him Wednesday morning in Dartmouth, N.S.

Nova Scotia RCMP officers say they began their investigation when they were called about a suspicious package around 9:20 p.m. Monday. They investigated three locations, finding chemical materials in two, according to authorities.

The RCMP believed that Mr. Phillips had an American military background in biological and chemical warfare, but the United States Military has no record of him. Those records only date back to 1999.

The U.S.-born Mr. Phillips was once married to the U.S. Olympic gold-medal-winning gymnast Shannon Miller. They divorced in 2006 and in 2008 Mr. Phillips moved to Halifax.

In a statement, Ms. Miller, who won a 1996 balance beam gold medal, said after hearing the recent news about her ex-husband her “prayers immediately go to the safety of those around him.”

“I’m thankful that the brave men and women of the Ottawa police department and other law enforcement agencies were able to apprehend him and diffuse the situation without incident,” Ms. Miller said.

The two were married at a Baptist church in Miller’s hometown of Edmund, Okla., in June 1999. They separated in 2004.

In July 2007, Mr. Phillips was issued a licence to practise as a doctor and surgeon in Washington state. He was certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology. He purchased an already operating laser eye care clinic in the fall of 2007 in Bellingham, Wash., and later had multiple misconduct allegations levied against him and the practice.

According to State of Washington Health Department allegations, Mr. Phillips promised five patients at an eye care clinic he owned that he could restore their vision to 20/20 with surgery.

None of the patients’ vision was restored to 20/20, despite his assurances, it was alleged.

In an informal disposition for those allegations reached in March 2010, Mr. Phillips agreed not to renew his expired licence.

He was charged in Washington state in 2008 with providing liquor to a minor and disturbing the peace in connection with a loud party at his home.

According to U.S. court documents, in March 2008, Mr. Phillips was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment at the Menniger Clinic.

The documents do not state what the diagnosis was.

“The records from this hospitalization contain diagnoses which would make it very difficult or impossible for (Phillips) to obtain employment as an expert witness,” the documents state.

Mike Carroccetto/Postmedia News

Mike Carroccetto/Postmedia NewsOttawa police blockade the Chimo Hotel in Ottawa Tuesday.

The documents and health records are part of a civil suit that Mr. Phillips launched against several media outlets that reported he had suddenly vanished and left his patients in the lurch. The suits were ultimately dismissed.

After filing for personal bankruptcy in July 2008, he moved to Halifax and married Gosia Phillips. Proclamations published by the province of Nova Scotia show that Gosia Eve Phillips legally changed her name in February 2010 from Malgorzata Ewa Klonowska.

Mr. Phillips’ LinkedIn profile paints a picture of a veritable renaissance man — an attending eye surgeon at Boston University, Sawyer Business School graduate at Suffolk University, a medical and business law degree from the same institution’s law school.

‘Person reported to have mental health issues/PTSD and has issues with law-enforcement personnel’

Suffolk University confirmed that Mr. Phillips earned a law degree in May 2007 followed by an MBA in May 2010.

The profile also lists him as the manager of Neurology and Sleep Medicine Associates, Inc., a business registered in Nova Scotia since 2009.

According to the province’s business registry, that business operates out of a home at 43 Parkedge Crescent in Dartmouth. RCMP searched the home Tuesday but found nothing of note.

However, RCMP were also at 54 Lakeridge Crescent, where they say they found a package in the garage containing hazardous chemicals.

Police also located hazardous and volatile chemicals inside a cottage on Dyke Road in Nova Scotia.

Property records show Gosia Eve Phillips owns the Lakeridge home. She is also listed as the president of their business. She is a Harvard University graduate and a neurologist who specializes in sleep medicine and is an assistant professor of medicine at Dalhousie University.

According to sources, it was Gosia Phillips who alerted authorities to her husband’s whereabouts.

A woman who answered the phone at the Parkedge Crescent home Wednesday morning said Gosia Phillips was at work and that she was there “sitting the babies.”

Postmedia News, with files from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, Meghan Hurley, Vito Pilieci, Andrew Seymour and Ian MacLeod

What the jury didn’t hear: ‘Not-criminally responsible’ defence of Eaton Centre shooter sprung midway through trial

Defence attorneys in the Eaton Centre murder trial caught the Crown off guard when they unveiled a doctor’s report midway through the trial that alleged their client was in a dissociative state when he shot seven people two years ago.

The surprise medical opinion, used to support a defence of “not criminally responsible” prompted Crown Attorney Mary Humphrey to ask for a significant delay in the trial, one the judge in the case rejected out of hand.

Jurors in the first-degree murder trial began their deliberations Tuesday. In his final instructions, Superior Court Justice Eugene Ewaschuk told the jury to choose between two starkly different accounts of the mass shooting.

In the Crown version, Christopher Husbands, the defendant, carried out a deliberate, planned assassination in an act of street justice that served as his revenge for an earlier attack.

In the defence account, Husbands, suffering from “crippling anxiety” and “incapacitating post-traumatic stress disorder,” killed two people and wounded five others after slipping into a state of “authentic dissociation.”

What the jurors didn’t know, however, is that Husbands’ attorneys sprung the “not-criminally responsible” defence on the Crown midway through the case. His lead attorney, Dirk Derstine, made no mention of PTSD in his opening statement. And the Crown had no expert ready to refute the doctor’s report when it appeared.

That led to a mini-crisis in the middle of the two-month trial. After consulting one expert witness, Mrs. Humphrey told the judge she would need a delay of at least several weeks before she could produce a credible second opinion on Husbands’ mental state.

Mr. Ewaschuk, however, refused to grant any significant break. Even after Mrs. Humphrey relayed her expert’s opinion that no responsible medical professional would perform an assessment in the time frame available, Mr. Ewaschuk refused to budge.

Eventually, the Crown found two doctors willing to testify. Both disagreed with defence expert Dr. Julian Gojer, who testified that Husbands entered a dissociative state brought on by PTSD in the Eaton Centre on June 2, 2012.

Husbands shot and killed two men in the busy food court that evening. His stray bullets wounded five others.

During the trial, the Crown argued the shooting was an act of revenge against men who had beaten, bound and stabbed Husbands months earlier. The defence contended that Husbands, a fragile wreck after the earlier attack, went into a trance when he randomly ran into his attackers in the Eaton Centre food court.

Husbands faces two counts of first-degree murder, five others of aggravated assault and another of criminal negligence causing harm. On the murder charges, the jurors also have the option of finding him guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter.