Boyle's Parliament Hill meeting raises questions about who meets the PM

A meeting between the prime minister and former Taliban hostage Joshua Boyle’s family in Justin Trudeau’s Parliament Hill office is raising questions about who is selected to meet with Canada’s head of government and why.

'Somebody in the PMO should have said: Is this really the kind of person that we want?' says ex-CSIS analyst

Joshua Boyle's family posted this photo with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter on Dec. 19, 2017. (@boylesvsworld/Twitter)

A meeting between the prime minister and former hostage Joshua Boyle's family in Justin Trudeau's Parliament Hill office is raising questions about who gets to meet with Canada's head of government and why.

On New Year's Day, less than two weeks after Boyle, his wife and three children met with Trudeau, Boyle was arrested and charged with more than a dozen criminal offences, including sexual assault, assault, administering a noxious substance, unlawful confinement and uttering threats.

Boyle, his American wife Caitlan Coleman, and their three children were freed in October, five years after the couple was abducted while on a backpacking trip in Afghanistan; all three children were born while they were held.

Phil Gurski, a former analyst for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), says that going into the meeting with Trudeau there were enough unanswered questions to have given pause to staff at the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), including Boyle's decision to take his pregnant wife backpacking to Afghanistan in the first place.

"What was the actual motive, shall we say, behind this whole trip in the first place?" Gurski said in an interview with CBC News, noting that there are many other places where travel would have been safer. "Somebody in the PMO should have said: 'Is this really the kind of person that we want?'"

Gurski said that while there was likely no immediate physical risk to Trudeau during the meeting, "there certainly seems to be a reputational one now."

"I can't fault him for wanting to welcome back Canadians who have been through these types of experiences and I respect that, but in this particular case we knew that there were issues surrounding this particular situation," he said.

But since Boyle's arrest, some Conservatives have called out Trudeau on Twitter for taking the meeting.

PM's decision

According to a government official, speaking on background, it was the Boyle family who requested the meeting with Trudeau. It was granted but no official photographs or notices of the meeting were released by Trudeau's office, although photos were tweeted out by the Boyle family.

The official said Trudeau agreed to the meeting because of the ordeal the Boyle family had been through and that he would have met any other Canadian who had endured a similar experience. The official would not comment on the PMO's security procedures or what vetting of Boyle might have been done.

But Mel Cappe, a former clerk of the Privy Council who served from 1999-2002, told CBC News Network's Power & Politics that, while the security detail around him generally determines the risk to Trudeau in any given situation, any decisions are ultimately up to the prime minister.

"It's up to the prime minister to decide who he meets with," Cappe told guest host Terry Milewski. "He goes out there into the public and not everyone he meets with is vetted."  

Checkered past

Boyle was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of Omar Khadr, whose late father was an associate of Osama bin Laden.

After his divorce, Boyle left in the summer 2012 with his new wife, Coleman, for a trip that would take them through Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then to Afghanistan, where they were abducted.

Gurski said Boyle's past association and interests should have, at the very least, raised questions before a visit in the prime minister's office was arranged.

"There must be... thousands of requests that the PMO gets on a regular basis [for meetings]," Gurski said. 

"Maybe they want to go through those requests a little more carefully to make sure, first of all, that the right people are being allowed that close to the prime minister, and secondly, it is not going to blow up in their faces down the road."