A Canadian woman arrested this weekend in connection with a conspiracy to send ricin-laced packages to the United States – including to U.S. President Donald Trump’s White House – will make a court appearance in upstate New York on Tuesday.
Meantime, police in hazardous-material suits are conducting searches in a residential Montreal neighbourhood as they look for additional pieces of evidence.
Authorities are not identifying the female suspect caught in the cross-border investigation.
But the Canadian woman is said to have been before courts last year in Texas, where additional ricin-laced packages have reportedly been sent. RCMP Corporal Melanie Cappiello-Stebenne says the investigation centres on five letters or packages shipped to Texas in addition to the correspondence mailed to the White House.
She was in Canada before her arrest, crossing the Canada-U.S. border near Niagara Falls on Sunday night. Now she is being held in upstate New York as prosecutors prepare to reveal charges in a Buffalo court on Tuesday.
“The initial appearance for the defendant arrested over the weekend at the Peace Bridge will not take place today [Monday],” said Barbara Burns, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
She added that the suspect will appear in person at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
In Montreal, police are concentrating searches on a condominium block on Vauquelin Boulevard in the suburb of Longueuil.
“Our Chemical, Biological, Radiological Nuclear, Explosives team (CBRNE) is leading the operation,” the RCMP’s Quebec wing said in statement posted to Twitter. “Police and fire teams from Longueuil are also on site. All necessary measures have been taken to ensure public safety.”
Over the weekend the RCMP had confirmed that it has been assisting U.S. authorities with an investigation into packages sent from Canada to the United States which allegedly contained the toxin ricin, a deadly poison but one that occurs naturally within castor beans.
The New York Times has also reported that other poisonous packages were sent to law enforcement agencies in Texas and that the arrested woman was charged in that state in March, 2019. The past charges are said to have included ones involving her having an unlicensed weapon and having a fake driver’s licence and to have culminated in her being deported to Canada.
The Globe has not independently confirmed these past charges. When police were contacted in Mission, Texas, investigator Art Flores said that police department is not releasing details about the suspect or any her past crimes. He referred calls to the U.S. FBI San Antonio field office, which would not release any additional information.
The complex investigation now straddles potential crime scenes in Quebec, upstate New York, and the southern tip of Texas.
“We are aware of the concerning reports of packages containing ricin directed toward U.S. federal government sites. Canadian law enforcement is working closely with their U.S. counterparts. As this is an active investigation we cannot comment further,” said Mary-Liz Power, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in a statement released this past weekend.
With reports from Janice DIckson, TuThanh Ha, The Canadian Press and Associated Press