As It Happens

UPDATED: Kidnapped Canadian-American family freed after 5 years of captivity in Afghanistan

In December 2016, Linda and Patrick Boyle shared their ordeal of having their son, daughter-in-law — and now three grandchildren — held as hostages in Afghanistan. The family has now been released.
A still image from a video posted by the Taliban on social media on December 19, 2016 shows American Caitlan Coleman (L) speaking next to her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their two sons. (Taliban/Twitter via Reuters)

UPDATE: Ten months after this interview aired, Canadian Joshua Boyle, his U.S.-born wife Caitlan Coleman and their three young children have been freed. U.S. officials said on Oct. 12 that Pakistan secured the family's release. Follow for the latest on this developing story. Read our original interview with Boyle's parents below. At the time of the interview last year the third grandchild had not yet been born. 

Read Story Transcript

This week, parents of a Canadian held hostage in Afghanistan with his family are speaking out.

Four years ago, their son Joshua and his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, were taken by a Taliban-linked group while backpacking near Kabul.

On Monday, the Haqqani network uploaded a video of them. But, the video also included two new faces: their children. Both the young boys were born during captivity. The video was the first time their grandparents back in Canada saw them.

As It Happens guest-host Helen Mann spoke with Patrick and Linda Boyle from their home near Ottawa. She began by asking what it was like to watch the video.

Patrick Boyle: It was wonderful. It's just incredible to see our grandsons for the first time and to see all four together as a family for the first time. Obviously, there were mixed emotions because while we're seeing them be normal little boys caring for each other and interacting and making faces and picking their noses, we're hearing Joshua's leg chains jangling. We're listening to their mother describe being defiled.

HM: That's a terrible juxtaposition, seeing those little faces and hearing that story.

PB: This is a story of juxtapositions for four years.

HM: Linda, how about you. Tell us about seeing the video and the feelings that went through you.

Linda Boyle: I think just because of the previous video, I had actually purposely turned the volume off for the first time to watch it through so I was just focusing on them and looking at them and, you know, I was just enjoying my grandchildren.

I watched that first and then turned on the volume and watched it with two of my kids who were here too. We watched it together and it was just sort of frightening. It shocks you and I guess it was one of them who heard the leg chains and oh my gosh they're shackled and you know it's like ... they looked like such a beautiful family ... and then reality hits you.

Framed photo of Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman, along with a photo of their two sons born in captivity. (Linda and Patrick Boyle)

HM:  Caitlan references in the video that these are her two surviving children. What does she mean by that? Do you know?

PB: I think she's confirming that they lost another child, and that's why she's used that word. We thought we understood that from the letters.

HM: The statements from both Joshua and Caitlan, as you've both alluded to, are very disturbing. Caitlan's speaking about being violated in front of her children. Looking at their faces, what you could see of them, what is your sense of their well-being, how they're doing?

LB: They're certainly healthier looking than the first two videos we were sent a couple years ago. I think I saw in both of them a lot of, how would I describe ... defiant. Anger. And I, I actually see that as a good thing because I think that's what keeps them strong and keeps them going. I think without that they would just break.

PB: They certainly are resilient and holding up after four plus years to an extent I can't imagine I could even do, but I would hope I could do it as well as the two of them — both in upholding each other and getting their children through this, this far, so well.

LB: ... I  guess we're lucky the whole family does have  a sense of humour and we try and use that especially in tough times to get us though and he does talk in one of his letters about them just not understanding the irreverence of the Irish. And then in the next sentence he says, by the way, "I'll need dental work". So, it's a sad one because obviously he's referring to being beaten or whatever for that attitude but at the same time, I know it's that strength that keeps them going.

HM: So you recognise the son that you know in these videos?

PB: In these videos and in the letters. Absolutely. That is our Josh and that's certainly the Cait we knew. 

Obviously, we're counting on the government to get our children home ... I don't think Canada has a lot of resources.- Linda Boyle

HM: Linda, in a letter that you received from Josh, he says that he and Caitlan try to keep the spirits high for the children by playing "Life is Beautiful". What do you think he meant?

LB: Well he's referring to the movie. You know, in a concentration camp, trying not to let the son know how bad his circumstances are and, yep, that was definitely probably one of the saddest parts of that letter was trying to imagine, especially here in North America, how our kids grow up and, and it just really makes you realise, that's not the average lifestyle...

Linda and Patrick Boyle (Michelle Shephard (Toronto Star))

HM: Patrick, in the video, Caitlan, who is American is heard urging Washington to negotiate for the family's release. How much of the message that she delivers do you think is her own words, how much, perhaps, for her captors?

PB: I think they're Josh and hers own words ... their choice of words ... but clearly the messaging is coming from their captors. Captors are getting them to say the timing is now, we're ready to talk, they make it clear why between this video and the last threatening video of August, that there are two reasons. One is they are Haqqani network members, and Haqqani family members, including  Anas Haqqani, on trial in Afghanistan, and they would like their family members and group members back.

Secondly, they are very clear that there is a presidential transition in the United States that provides an opportunity. And I think that's again the captors recognising that intersects [with] the Haqqani trial ... They're very clear from these two videos, the timing, the context, that the demands are to governments. That's consistent since the beginning of communication, not to families, and they're a Canadian/American family, but only governments are going to be able to resolve this. Or not if that's their choice. And it really comes down to the Afghan government who are the ones holding the Haqqani family members, and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan ... Clearly, the Canadian and U.S. governments can use diplomatic means to try and make that happen between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan.

HM: What about the Canadian government, what do you think they should be dong? Is there something that they can be doing?

LB: Obviously, we're counting on the government to get our children home because no demand has ever been made on us so I would be rather stupid right now to say anything negative about any government. But that being said, I don't think Canada has a lot of resources.

Every day is difficult. No, it doesn't change depending on the day.- Linda Boyle

HM: Four years is a very long time. You've seen and you've alluded to some of the more difficult things they're explaining about their captivity and the abuses they've suffered. But have you had any sense in the communications you've had from Joshua and Caitlan what their day-to-day lives are like?

LB: We only got the first letter a year ago and then a second letter a few months after that. Nothing since, other than these two terrible videos.  It's been harsher than anybody imagines. It's where even when I let my thoughts go to how bad it could be, I think it's beyond that. 

PB: We were pleased to see they seem to be together right now, or interacting with each other as though they are together often. We don't think that was always the case. So, the greatest sense we've had of what their day-to-day lives together are like, are really captured I think in Joshua's sentence about that film.
Linda Boyle and Lyn Coleman with a photo of their married children Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman. (Bill Gorman/Associated Press)

HM: You are in contact I understand it with Caitlan's family as well. I'm just wondering how all of you cope, what you provide to each other, in the way of support? 

LB: Well, just talking to one another ... I mean, on a kind of superficial level, a perfect example was just in the last month. We heard [Caitlan's mom] talk about they just couldn't get themselves to put up a Christmas tree or decorations this year. We, not knowing that, sent them as a Christmas gift a Christmas tree and ... so they have one now. And I was saying to the kids, I'm not going to get the Christmas baking and everything done and sure enough a package arrives with Christmas baking. It's just little things like that that seem silly and very superficial but it's little things, just talking to each other and being there for each other and sort of anticipating what times are going to be hard and when you need to talk and when you just need to be silent. 

HM: I imagine this is a particularly difficult time of year...

LB: Every day is difficult. No, it doesn't change depending on the day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Patrick and Linda Boyle. Thanks to Michelle Shephard for her help in covering this story. 


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