Politics

Joshua Boyle sexual assault trial delayed as estranged wife's lawyer steps aside at least temporarily

The sexual assault trial in Ottawa of former Afghanistan hostage Joshua Boyle has hit another bump, with the lawyer for the complainant stepping aside at least temporarily as he may have to testify.

Complainant revealed in court Wednesday her lawyer told her it was OK to do media interviews

Joshua Boyle has pleaded not guilty to 19 charges, including assault with a weapon, sexual assault and forcible confinement against his now-estranged wife. His trial is in the Ontario Court of Justice. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The sexual assault trial in Ottawa of former Afghanistan hostage Joshua Boyle has hit another bump, with the lawyer for the complainant stepping aside at least temporarily as he may have to testify.

Caitlan Coleman, Boyle's estranged wife, has been represented by lawyer Ian Carter. But on Thursday morning in the Ontario Court of Justice, Carter had to step aside at least for the time being, and lawyer Howard Krongold was given permission to represent her.

Boyle, 35, faces 19 charges, including assault with a weapon, sexual assault and forcible confinement against her. He has pleaded not guilty to charges for actions allegedly committed after they were freed following nearly six years in captivity, during which time their three children were born.

After their release in 2017, they settled in Ottawa.

The high-profile trial took an unexpected twist Wednesday when the defence blasted Coleman for doing several interviews with CBC News, the Washington Post and the U.S. network ABC News. Coleman indirectly violated the witness exclusion order, defence lawyer Lawrence Greenspon argued, doing the media circuit while being a witness at the trial.

Witness exclusion orders prevent anyone giving evidence at trials from talking to other witnesses. Violating these orders might result in contempt of court. 

It's unclear how Judge Peter Doody will rule, but Doody ordered Coleman not to speak directly or indirectly to any witnesses before Wednesday's adjournment.

Doody also ordered Carter not to speak with his client because Carter might be called to testify.

Her lawyer might become a witness after Coleman revealed in court Wednesday he told her it was OK to do the interviews.

Carter told CBC News on Wednesday he remains Coleman's lawyer, but he was stepping aside as the trial deals with this new legal challenge. In the event Carter might have to take the witness box, Solomon Friedman appeared in court Thursday as his counsel.

Solicitor-client privilege

Before the court determines if Carter will have to testify it needs to establish whether Coleman waived on the stand her solicitor-client privilege — a common law concept that protects communication between a lawyer and their client because it is private. 

The judge heard arguments from the defence and Coleman's new lawyer. 

The defence believes Coleman waived her privilege when she said during testimony Wednesday her lawyer approved the interviews. Consequently, Greenspon said, her consent was implied. Greenspon added no lawyer would advise a witness still giving evidence that it was OK to do media interviews.

He suggested Coleman said she spoke with her lawyer to excuse "the impropriety" of defying the court's order that limits her communication with others.

"What we have here is the credibility of a highly experienced and well respected lawyer being invoked to assist Ms. Coleman's position," Greenspon said. "In the circumstances her privilege has been waived."

Coleman's new lawyer said she didn't knowingly waive her solicitor-client privilege and it was an "inadvertent" omission. Krongold said his client could not be expected to understand the complexities of the law, and she didn't knowingly and voluntarily waive her privilege.

The judge reserved his decision to a later, unspecified date.

On Friday the trial will hear from Coleman's mother.

About the Author

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.