Canada·The Fifth Estate

Joshua Boyle trial one of the first to test new standing for sexual assault complainants

A little more than a month out from a verdict in the sexual assault trial of Joshua Boyle, CBC’s The Fifth Estate takes a look back at some of the pivotal details of the closely watched case and the ways in which it tested new rules for how courts treat sexual assault complainants.

Criminal Code change introduced last year allows lawyers to better protect complainants at trial

Caitlan Coleman gave a harrowing account to The Fifth Estate of her time in captivity and the alleged abuses she suffered at the hands of her now estranged husband. (Judy Trinh/CBC)
  • UPDATE: Since this story was published, an Ontario Court judge dismissed all 19 chares against Boyle. Read the full story

A little more than a month out from a verdict in the sexual assault trial of Joshua Boyle, CBC's The Fifth Estate takes a look back at some of the pivotal details of the closely watched case and the ways in which it tested new rules for how courts treat sexual assault complainants.

Boyle, 36, has pleaded not guilty to 19 charges, including multiple counts of sexual assault, assault and unlawful confinement and will learn his fate Dec. 19 when Ontario Court Judge Peter Doody hands down a verdict.

Seventeen of the offences were allegedly committed against Boyle's estranged wife, Caitlan Coleman, 34, between October and December 2017 after the couple returned to Canada from Afghanistan, where they were held hostage for five years by the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

"Life for me didn't change much after we were released," Coleman said in an interview with the CBC in May that is part of a new Fifth Estate examination of the case. (Watch the full interview below.)

Once they settled in Ottawa with their three children, Coleman said, Boyle took on the role of a prison guard. 

"[He] controlled every element of my life," she said.

Boyle disputed that portrayal of their marriage, testifying at trial that it was Coleman who was physically and emotionally abusive.

Unique case

Joshua Boyle has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him and gave a vastly different account at trial of his relationship with Coleman than his estranged wife did. He testified that their sexual relationship was consensual and that Coleman was unstable and prone to fits of rage. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Boyle's trial, which began in March, was the first major sexual assault case in which the complainant had standing in the court as a result of a change to the Criminal Code that came into effect in December 2018, said Blair Crew, a professor of law at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

Under the new provisions, lawyers have more power to protect their clients from questions about past sexual history, for example.

  • The Fifth Estate is airing at a new time this season: Sundays at 9 pm ET on CBC-TV

Coleman was represented by her own lawyer, Ian Carter, at the judge-only trial. 

Carter appealed Doody's decision to grant an exception to the rape shield provisions of the Criminal Code and let the defence question Coleman about her past sexual experiences with her husband. 

"I think this is the first time in Canadian history that we've seen a case where counsel for a complainant has had a right to appeal mid-trial," said Crew. 

The appeal was ultimately unsuccessful, and the defence was allowed to solicit limited testimony on Coleman's sexual history.

Risky move

During the seven weeks the appeal was making its way through the courts and the trial was on hiatus, Coleman, a U.S. citizen, made a rare and risky move: she gave interviews to two American media outlets and the CBC.

"It would run the risk of making her look vindictive," said Crew of Coleman's decision to speak to media mid-trial. 

"While it can increase the chances of an acquittal, I don't see any way that it can increase the chance of a conviction."

Coleman fled to the U.S. with her three children once she was granted temporary sole custody. Once there, she gave birth to the couple's fourth child. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

Coleman spoke to the CBC from her home in the northeastern United States. She moved there in July 2018 after separating from Boyle and being granted temporary sole custody of their children and a restraining order against Boyle. Since arriving in the U.S., she has given birth to the couple's fourth child.

During the three-hour interview, Coleman spoke about her turbulent relationship with Boyle and her decision to speak publicly about the abuse she says he inflicted on her throughout their eight-year marriage.

WATCH | Watch the full Fifth Estate interview with Caitlan Coleman:

"I want to speak out on behalf of other women who aren't able to speak out or haven't reached a point where they realize, you know, they need to," she said.

Boyle and Coleman's have vastly different accounts of their life together. At trial, Boyle testified that the couple's sexual relationship was consensual and that Coleman was mentally unstable and prone to fits of rage.

A still image from a video posted by the Taliban on social media on Dec. 19, 2016, shows Coleman and Boyle. The two were held for five years and rescued by the Pakistani military in October 2017. (Taliban/Twitter via Reuters)

In the Fifth Estate interview, Coleman says she's only just beginning to live a normal life.

"Josh took a lot of the best years of my life from me … What I've gained is a degree of strength and a degree of ability to deal with any situation that arises because I've been in the depths of hell for so long."


Judy Trinh

CBC Reporter

Judy Trinh is an investigative journalist with CBC News. She covers a diverse range of stories from police misconduct to human rights court challenges and the #MeToo movement. She aims to be both critical and compassionate in her reporting. Follow her on Twitter @judyatrinh Reach her at