The Joshua Boyle saga – an alternative view

This piece appeared in The Hill Times on January 22, 2018

If there is one thing we have learned about Joshua Boyle it is that he is an odd duck.  He apparently made over 62,000 edits and contributions to Wikipedia over a 13-year span (if my math is correct that makes 15  a day) on subjects ranging from the Nazis to porn to sex to Star Wars.  One could wonder if he did anything productive over that time period.  In addition, we all know that he chose to marry Zaynab Khadr, a member of Canada’s #1 terrorism families and was at her side when she protested outside a Toronto courtroom over the arrest of the Toronto 18 (recall that they planned three truck bombs that would have killed and maimed thousands).  He also elected to take his very pregnant wife Caitlan Coleman into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in late 2012 where they were captured and held by a terrorist group for five years before their release last fall.

Now, of course, he has been arrested and is facing serious charges ranging from sexual assault to unlawful confinement to ‘administering a noxious substance’ to public mischief (he lied to police about a missing, suicidal person with a view to diverting police attention away from him).  None of these charges has been proven in court.

At a minimum, Mr. Boyle is an idiot for his decision to expose his wife to harm in Afghanistan (he claims she was raped while in captivity and forced to abort a baby girl – how did his captors know she was carrying a girl?).  He sure has not made any friends among Ms. Coleman’s family.

He does have his supporters though, including our Prime Minister who gladly agreed to pose for pictures with the liberated family in December (who in the PMO thought THAT was a good idea?) and those who are excusing his recent actions as evidence of PTSD.

There is a lot we don’t know about Mr. Boyle and his ordeal and we can hope to learn more in the future.  What I wish to focus on, though, is his story regarding what he was doing in Afghanistan in the first place in 2012.  He claims that he and his wife were doing charity work or were on a pilgrimage or both – the story seems to change.  I would like to propose an alternative account, purely speculative of course.

First and foremost, it is important to establish that Mr. Boyle had, and may still have, tendencies or proclivities towards Islamist extremism.  This is borne out of his relationship with Ms. Khadr: it is next to impossible to think that he married her and did not know, and did not support, that family’s well-known activities in that regard.  So, there is a history there.

I suggest that Mr. Boyle traveled to Afghanistan with a view to to making contact with Islamist extremists (although I am ignorant as to what end) or, at a minimum, believed that his ties to the Khadrs, who after all lived in an Al Qaeda camp at one point, would offer him some form of protection.  Something went terribly wrong and all his assumptions failed leading to his capture and that of his wife.  What actually happened during their time as hostages is also up for grabs: the terrorist group that held them is disputing many of the details Mr. Boyle has proffered (not that we should put a lot of stake in the word of Islamist extremists).

Continuing in speculation mode, I think Joshua Boyle was subject to investigation immediately after his return to Canada with a view to determining whether he indeed traveled to Afghanistan to join the Taliban, as the CIA seems to believe.  In the course of that counter terrorism investigation police discovered the other crimes he was engaged in and decided to act to protect those whom he was harming rather than wait to find more on the terrorism links.  There is precedent for this: in 2010 Ottawa resident Awso Peshdary was arrested in conjunction with the RCMP’s SAMOSSA counter terrorism investigation, released for lack of evidence, but re-arrested on charges of sexual assault (these were later dropped as well).  Based on my experience at CSIS it is not that rare for one investigation to uncover other offences that have nothing to do with the original intent of the investigative effort.

Then again, maybe I am way off base in my theories.  In the end as I noted we will see,  I hope.  Regardless, whatever happens to Mr. Boyle under the current charges he has a lot of explaining to do.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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