Delay of Joshua Boyle's assault trial could be shortened

Joshua Boyle's lawyer sees a glimmer of hope that a dispute over evidence in the Ottawa assault trial will be resolved quickly, leading to the resumption of the former hostage's case as early as July.

Estranged wife's lawyer told not to appeal outcome of her legal challenge

Joshua Boyle arrives at Ontario court in Ottawa on March 25. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

A legal challenge by former Afghanistan captive Joshua Boyle's wife in the middle of his sexual-assault trial sets a "very dangerous precedent" that could be disastrous for such proceedings across Canada, Boyle's lawyer says.

Lawrence Greenspon said Friday he will vigorously oppose the timing and substance of Caitlan Coleman's appeal of a recent ruling that allows Boyle to introduce evidence about the couple's consensual sexual activity.

Boyle, 35, has pleaded not guilty in Ontario court to offences against Coleman, 33, including assault, sexual assault and unlawful confinement.

The alleged offences date from late 2017, after the couple returned to Canada following five years as hostages of extremists who seized them during an ill-fated trip to Asia.

The assault trial, which began in late March, is suspended indefinitely while Coleman heads to Ontario Superior Court on May 15 to challenge the ruling allowing Boyle's lawyers to examine her and Boyle's sexual history. 

The law sets out limits on the extent to which an accused person can bring up an alleged victim's sexual history during a trial and legislative changes that took effect in December gave complainants in sexual-assault cases a bigger say in proceedings on allowable evidence.

But Boyle's legal team has expressed concern about the detrimental effects that a delay of months or even years could have for the accused.

'Better with time'

Greenspon's co-counsel, Eric Granger, told the court this week that the case hinges on the reliability of evidence, which does not "get better with time" as memories fade. In addition, Boyle must abide by strict bail conditions that limit his freedoms while the trial plays out.

Greenspon said Friday that Boyle would oppose Coleman's application in Superior Court.

"There's a real concern, and I think there ought to be, about this step being taken in the middle of a criminal trial," Greenspon said after a hearing to discuss next steps. "It would set a very dangerous precedent to allow that kind of application to happen mid-trial and the impact on all other sexual-assault trials across the country would be — I don't think it's overstating it to say — disastrous."

However, Greenspon welcomed a commitment from Coleman's lawyer, Ian Carter, that could lead to a relatively speedy resolution of the legal snag.

Caitlan Coleman leaves court in Ottawa on March 27. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Carter said Friday that Coleman had instructed him not to appeal the outcome of the challenge — even if it goes against her — to help ensure the trial gets back on track.

"We discussed the matter, and while she feels strongly with respect to the issue that's arisen, at the same time we want to ensure that the trial moves forward in an expeditious manner," Carter said. 

Greenspon said that was "potentially good news in terms of putting a cap on the delay."

However, he is reserving Boyle's right to appeal the Superior Court decision if it doesn't go his way.

A ruling from the higher court could come later this spring, meaning Boyle's assault trial might resume as early as July if there are no further appeals.

The lawyers discussed potential dates Friday that could see the rest of the trial unfold in several sittings over the summer and early fall.