A judge has dismissed charges against former Afghanistan hostage Joshua Boyle, who had been accused of assaulting his wife Caitlan Coleman.
It took Ontario Court Judge Peter Doody more than three hours to deliver the verdict, which ultimately concluded the Crown had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any of the 19 charges against Boyle, including assault, sexual assault and unlawful confinement.
Doody spent most of his lengthy decision explaining why he didn’t believe either Boyle’s or Coleman’s accounts of what happened during the two months the couple lived together in Ottawa after being freed following five years in captivity at the hands of Taliban-linked extremists.
Coleman alleged in her testimony that Boyle dominated and attempted to control her, and physically and sexually assaulted her on more than one occasion. Boyle denied any of that to be true.
Doody concluded that while he didn’t believe Boyle, he could not convict him because there was no evidence beyond Coleman’s own testimony to confirm her accounts of the specific incidents for which Boyle was charged.
Doody cited multiple times where he felt Boyle was inconsistent or lying, avoided giving clear answers, or was argumentative.
Doody said he did not feel Boyle was a credible witness.
He also said he felt that Coleman was neither credible nor reliable as a witness, because of her own inconsistent statements, hostile responses during cross-examination, and many times where she stated her memories were “fuzzy” or “blurry.” He also noted more than once that she acknowledged she may be mixing up what happened during the alleged events in the charges, with things that happened on other occasions.
He said taken altogether, her memory lapses, uncertainties and admitted confusion about what happened when, caused him “concern about the reliability of her evidence.”
Doody said none of his decisions about Coleman’s credibility or reliability were based on preconceived notions of how a victim of assault or sexual assault is supposed to act. Neither, he said, did he put any weight on suggestions from the defence that the bar for proving sexual assault or criminal harassment was higher because she may have consented to aggressive sexual behaviours on other occasions.
Coleman was not present for the verdict Thursday. Her lawyer, Ian Carter, said he had spoken to her afterwards.
“She’s devastated by the verdict,” Carter said.
“I believe this case is an example of the challenges a complainant faces coming forward with allegations of sexual assault or domestic violence, at least in the criminal courts,” he said. “She needs some time to process what was said today and try and move on with her life.”
Boyle sat in the courtroom Thursday morning, his parents at his side, during the verdict. He arrived at the courthouse wearing only a light sweater vest, despite it being -20 C in Ottawa Thursday morning.
Boyle’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, said his client was relieved but that the entirety of the decision probably hadn’t sunk in yet.
Greenspon acknowledged that the judge hadn’t believed his client or Coleman.
“Had it been a credibility contest it would be a tie,” he said. “They both lost.”
Greenspon said all the bail conditions restricting Boyle’s movements since his arrest on Dec. 31, 2017 will now be lifted and the ankle monitoring bracelet removed as soon as possible. Greenspon said Boyle’s next step will be seeking custody of the couple’s four children.
“Today was a necessary first step in that direction,” said Greenspon.
Boyle and Coleman had three children born while they were in captivity. A fourth child was born in 2018, after Boyle’s arrest. Greenspon said Boyle has never met his youngest child, and hasn’t seen the other three in almost two years.
Boyle did not make any public statements after the verdicts. Greenspon said he did not expect his client to make any statements any time soon, given the critical eye Doody cast on Coleman for giving multiple interviews, while the trial was underway, about her relationship with Boyle and their experience as hostages.
Doody said Coleman did not adequately explain her decision for giving the interviews, and that doing so was inconsistent with her other statements that she was worried about emotional damage media coverage of the case would inflict on her children.