Something’s not right about the Joshua Boyle saga

There are unanswered questions about Joshua Boyle and why the horrific ordeal he put his wife and kids through began in the first place.

This post appeared in The Hill Times on September 16, 2019.

There was once a Canadian Prime Minister named Trudeau who stated “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”. This Trudeau PM was not the current version Justin, of course, but rather his father Pierre. This famous sentence was uttered during a debate on the decriminalisation of ‘homosexual acts’ performed in private. PET added “what’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code.”

If only that were true in an Ottawa courtroom.

For those following the sordid Joshua Boyle trial unfolding painfully as detailed in the Ottawa Citizen we are getting far too much insight into what went on in the bedroom – or what passed for a bedroom in a shack in Afghanistan – of Mr. Boyle and his wife Caitlin Coleman, who is suing her estranged husband for sexual assault and forcible confinement, among other charges. We have been exposed to stories about anal sex, disciplinary sex and other details not for your children’s eyes – or anyone’s eyes for that matter.

To my mind, however, there are underlying issues that are not on the table in this proceeding but which need to be understood to really figure out why Mr. Boyle, Ms. Coleman and their children were held captive in Afghanistan for five years. My insistence on discussing these background matters should not be read in any way as dismissive of the seriousness of the sexual violence allegations. Nevertheless, they really should be looked at.

Simply put: what the hell were the couple doing in Afghanistan in the first place?

To some Mr. Boyle was an incredibly naive man who thought that taking his wife, who was five months pregnant at the time, into Afghanistan during a trek in Central Asia was a good idea. Anyone who saw that country as a desirable place for a hike, given what everyone knows about the litany of terrorist groups and insurgencies that have bedeviled that place for decades, is not very smart. No offence to the Afghan people, but sauntering through that nation’s highways and byways as a white couple cannot be seen as anything but foolish. That one decision led to capture by the Taliban and five years in hell: while I have no sympathy for Joshua I do for the kids and cannot imagine what it will take for them to get over their ordeal (luckily some young children are very resilient).

But is there more here? Could Mr. Boyle possibly be a Taliban/Islamist extremist fan boy? After all, he also thought it was a good idea to marry Zaynab Khadr – yes THAT Khadr family, the ones who lived in an Al Qaeda compound – and was a ‘hanger-on’ at the terrorism trial of some of those convicted in the mid-2000s Toronto 18 case. Was his capture an adventure – or a mission – gone horribly wrong? Is it unfair to ask these questions?

So which is he? Not too bright trekker? Abusive husband? Islamist extremist supporter? All of the above? None of the above? Does it matter?

I have watched enough TV court dramas to know that trials are a game where one side tries to out-duel the other to present the person on the stand as either virtuous or a pathological liar. This one seems no different. In the end, however, I for one really don’t want to hear anything more about the sexual habits of Joshua and Caitlan: I’m with Trudeau the elder on this point.

Still, there are unanswered questions about Joshua Boyle and why the horrific ordeal he put his wife and kids through began in the first place. Alas, I fear I will get no insight into any of that.

Phil Gurski is the President of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting and a former senior strategic analyst at CSIS.