Joshua Boyle deserves no sympathy, but he owes answers

First published at Global News on January 5, 2018. In December of 2019, all charges against Joshua Boyle were dismissed.

Sexual assault. Forcible confinement. Drugging.

If the allegations against Joshua Boyle, charged with 15 offences by police in Ottawa, are true, we are reminded of what we should already know — this isn’t a man who deserves any sympathy.

The charges against Boyle have not been proven in court, so I afford him his legally-guaranteed presumption of innocence.

My standing issues with Boyle, however, stem from facts that aren’t disputed.

While traveling through Asia, he took a detour — not part of the itinerary he previously shared with family — to a terrorist-ridden region in Afghanistan with his heavily pregnant wife, Caitlan Coleman.

After Coleman gave birth to the child she was carrying, Boyle deliberately impregnated her three more times in the course of the couple’s captivity. The first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, which Boyle characterizes as a forced, drug-induced abortion by the captors.

In a Maclean’s feature published this week, Boyle said the latter two pregnancies were an “act of rebellion” — a departure from his idiotic prior claim that he had children simply because he saw no reason to let captivity get in the way of his dream of a large family.

Beyond the callousness of bringing children into the world under such dangerous circumstances, it’s clear from Boyle’s comments that he viewed his children (even before conception) as mere props. I’ve never seen “Congratulations on your little bundle of rebellion” on Hallmark cards in my travels, so let’s not pretend that there’s anything normal about Boyle’s approach to family.

And let’s not forget his brief marriage to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of convicted murderer Omar Khadr. I know love conquers all or something of the sort, but Boyle entered into marriage with Khadr after it was well known from her on-the-record statements that she had a fondness for terrorism.

If Boyle is a victim of anything, it’s his own wrongdoing.

The Maclean’s article, which was based on a string of interviews in the days before Boyle’s arrest, revealed a concerning dynamic between Boyle and Coleman, saying “signs of Boyle’s controlling nature and distress were evident.”

“During interviews at the hotel, he refused to leave the room while Coleman spoke, at one point snapping at her when she responded to a follow-up question. ‘Check with me before you say any of that on the recording,’” the article said.

Despite how eager he’s been to get in front of cameras since his return to Canada in October, he hasn’t addressed his own motivations.

When asked why he and Coleman went to Afghanistan, Boyle called himself a “pilgrim” in one interview. In another statement he spoke of wanting to deliver aid to a region ignored by governments and charities — though he’s yet to explain what he was supposedly doing to help.

Boyle has yet to acknowledge his own religious and ideological beliefs about Islam and the Taliban’s interpretation of it.

His facial hair is trimmed in a way typical of many Muslim men, columnist Tarek Fatah wrote. Coleman has donned a hijab in all public appearances since arriving in Canada. In spite of this, neither has answered with any clarity whether they identify or practice as Muslims.

According to the Toronto Star, Coleman “declined…to speak about whether she has converted to Islam.” This week, the Toronto Sun reported that Boyle was similarly cagey about his faith, reporting “he refused to answer, stating only ‘I still identify as a pacifist.’”

Lest anyone accuse me of Islamophobia, I don’t think whether Boyle and Coleman are Muslims matters as much as their secrecy about it does — especially when it appears so clearly that they are, at the very least, embracing Muslim traditions.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen journalists push for real answers when interviewing him, which means his repatriation tour is more about revisionism than candour.

A fair criticism of this argument would be that someone who’s been through the trauma Boyle describes doesn’t owe an explanation to anyone. I’d argue he does, because he’s sought out these opportunities to speak out. But only on his terms, it seems.

Though I’ve not heard Boyle express radical views himself, his marriage to someone who held them is relevant, as is his travel to a regional hotspot for radical Islamists. He would also be well suited to describe the Haqqani network using stronger language than “criminal miscreants“— the term he used when speaking to reporters upon his return to Canada last October. He should forcefully condemn them as terrorists to remove any doubt about his own values.

Canadians have been so delighted that one of our own has returned that we’ve been too polite or politically correct to ask whether this is even a man worth saving.