Estranged wife's interviews complicate testimony in Joshua Boyle assault case

The sexual-assault trial of former Afghanistan hostage Joshua Boyle took another unexpected twist Wednesday that left the Crown's star witness looking for a new lawyer and the possibility of a contempt charge against her hanging in the air.

Joshua Boyle faces 19 charges, including sexual assault, assault and unlawful confinement

A judge has ruled that former hostage Caitlan Coleman can continue her testimony against her estranged husband. (Doug Husby/CBC)

The sexual-assault trial of former Afghanistan hostage Joshua Boyle took another unexpected twist Wednesday that left the Crown's star witness looking for a new lawyer and the possibility of a contempt charge against her hanging in the air.

Caitlan Coleman, Boyle's now-estranged wife, was once more being cross-examined by defence lawyer Lawrence Greenspon.

The couple spent five years as hostages of Taliban-linked extremists in Afghanistan between October 2012 and October 2017, when they were freed by Pakistani forces. The couple had three children while in captivity.

After being rescued they moved to Ottawa, where Boyle was arrested on Dec. 31, 2017, after Coleman fled their apartment. He faces 19 charges, including sexual assault, assault and unlawful confinement.

She alleges he repeatedly hit her, spanked her, choked her and bit her both in captivity and after moving to Ottawa. Among the allegations is the claim that Boyle gave her a list of rules to follow and if she didn't follow them she was to be chastised.

Coleman began testifying in March and early April but the trial was suspended for several weeks while courts sorted out what questions Greenspon could ask her about her sexual history with Boyle.

Coleman gave multiple media interviews

On April 3, Judge Peter Doody ordered Coleman not to have any discussions about the evidence she gave, or will give, at trial with any witness or potential witness.

However Greenspon pointed out during the cross-examination that Coleman gave at least three interviews with media outlets in April and May, including an interview with the CBC that aired May 28, and ABC News that aired May 29. She also spoke with the Washington Post but that interview has not yet been published, Greenspon said.

Coleman, who was testifying on a video link from an undisclosed location in the United States, said she gave "a very limited interview" to ABC News "that did not include discussion of what happened in Ottawa."

She agreed with Greenspon that she remembered the order given by Doody.

"That is why I was very limited in what I would discuss in interviews," she said.

Greenspon said she discussed a number of things in those interviews that were part of the evidence she'd already given, including how she and Boyle met, how the couple came to be in Afghanistan before they were taken hostage, some of the things that happened while they were in captivity, and some of the controls Boyle placed on her after they returned to Ottawa following their release.

Did Coleman violate a judge's order?

That's when Coleman said "my understanding from my lawyers was these were acceptable things to discuss."

Greenspon told the court he had never expected Coleman to say she had given the interviews after receiving approval from her lawyers, and the answer stopped the trial in its tracks.

There are now questions to be worked out about whether Coleman waived solicitor-client privilege when she volunteered that she sought advice from her lawyers before giving the interviews, as well as the issue of whether or not she violated the judge's order.

"She completely disregarded that instruction," said Greenspon in the courtroom. "She demonstrated that, she, in my submission, has no respect for the spirit if not the letter of Your Honour's order."

Lawyer may now become a witness

Coleman's lawyer, Ian Carter, might now become a witness in the case and stepped back from representing her, though he would not say if he had fully removed himself. He is obtaining his own counsel to represent him in the case where he might become a witness, and Doody advised Coleman that she should obtain a new lawyer to get advice about the situation.

Greenspon asked Doody to issue a tighter order to Coleman not to speak to anyone about anything to do with the case at all.

"I just don't want to see more media interviews between now and the time that her testimony is complete," Greenspon said. "I don't see it as a gag order but rather as an order to preserve the integrity of the proceedings, which have already been demonstrated to have been — I'll use the word 'challenged.' "

Doody wouldn't go that far but told Coleman the order he gave her means she can't speak about the evidence in the case directly or indirectly with any other witness. While he didn't say she couldn't speak to the media he told her she is not to speak to somebody with the understanding they would likely "disseminate" that information in a way that might reach another witness.

Joshua Boyle faces 19 charges, including assault with a weapon, sexual assault and forcible confinement against his estranged wife. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Coleman sat at the end of a boardroom table, her arms often crossed in front of her and occasionally wringing her hands, as she listened to Doody. She indicated while she understood she can't discuss the criminal allegations against Boyle, she was not clear about what else she could or could not talk about.

"It's very difficult," she said.

Earlier in the day Greenspon attempted to poke holes in Coleman's story about the assaults and other allegations, questioning her about the dates and times she said events occurred.

He asked her if she thought Boyle was trying to get her commit suicide when she says he forced her to take sleeping pills that a doctor had prescribed for him.

"I don't believe he was forcing me to suicide," she told the court, testifying via a video link. "I think that, well, it's speculation, but I think that if he wanted me dead, then I would be dead."

Greenspon also tried to get Coleman to admit that the couple had engaged in consensual bondage-and-discipline (BDSM) activity, but she said that was not true.

Coleman said she had "unfortunately" engaged in BDSM activities with Boyle while in Ottawa, but that they were never her idea.

"There was no point in Ottawa where I found BDSM to be anything but revolting," she said.

She denied Greenspon's assertion that she had willingly been tied up and allowed Boyle to have sex with her.

"There was never an instance in Ottawa that I was tied up and wanted to be tied up," she said.