, 01.08.2018 08:44 AM

Column: l’affaire Boyle

Not so long ago, I was in Vancouver at the same time as Jean Chretien.  He was there for his law firm, I was there for mine.  We decided to get together, in a spot down in Gastown.

It was sunny and a truly beautiful day.  Looking outside, Chretien suggested we go for a walk.  So, we left to take a walk – me, the former Prime Minister, and a single plainclothes RCMP officer.

Bruce Hartley, Chretien’s long-serving right-hand guy – and, frankly, the best EA in the history of Canadian politics – wasn’t with us.  He had business elsewhere.  So, Chretien, me and the cop strolled along Water Street, heading West.

People stopped and stared.  Japanese tourists took pictures.  BC Transit workers watched Chretien walk by, mouths agape.  Every few feet, Chretien would be stopped and asked for an autograph or to pose for a selfie.  It was a lot of fun.

At one point, in front of Waterfront Station, a homeless guy called out to Chretien.  The guy was sitting on the sidewalk, bearded and a little bit grimy.  He stood up and moved our way.  “Hey, Chretien!” the homeless guy yelled. “Hey, Chretien!”

The homeless guy now had the RCMP officer’s full attention, and mine, too.  I started pondering whether I could take a bullet for the greatest-ever Prime Minister, and concluded that I could and would.  But the homeless guy meant no harm.  He extended a grubby hand.  “Jean,” he said, giving a gap-toothed smile, “I just want to thank you for keeping us out of Bush’s illegal war in Iraq!”

Chretien burst out laughing, and so did I.  The Mountie relaxed.  Chretien gave the homeless guy five bucks.

Apologies for the length of this little anecdote, but it’s become relevant in recent days.  To wit: how does one get a meeting with a Prime Minister?

Quite a few folks are wondering about that, in the wake of the revelation that Justin Trudeau – a serving Prime Minister, and not just a former one – met with the rather-controversial Boyle family.  How did such a meeting happen?

The Boyles, of course, are the folks who were held hostage by terrorists and jihadists for half a decade in different locations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Joshua Boyle, the father, is a Canadian and was tortured and beaten.  Caitlan Coleman, his American wife, was raped.  Their three young children were born in captivity.

They returned to Canada in October and met with Trudeau in December.  The Boyles requested the meeting, apparently, and Trudeau agreed.  The Prime Minister received the Boyles in his Parliament Hill office, but precious few knew about it. After Christmas, however, the Boyles posted photos of the meeting on Twitter.  Eyebrows were raised.  Observers were puzzled.

When Joshua Boyle was last week charged with more than a dozen serious criminal offences – among them sexual assault, assault, administering a noxious substance, unlawful confinement and uttering threats – observers were more than puzzled.  Many, mostly of the conservative variety, were apoplectic.

In the National Post, Christie Blatchford wrote: “As Joshua Boyle, thank God, must be presumed innocent, so may Justin Trudeau be presumed to be merely stupid.”  Her colleague Chris Selley huffed that putting Trudeau together with Joshua Boyle was “a very strange decision,” a “bizarre misstep,” and a “backlash” is therefore coming that “could be legendary.”

“Legendary.” Could be.  Or, it could be – as in most things in politics – the most blasé explanation for events is the likeliest one.  This is Canadian politics, after all.

Sure, it seems likely that Joshua Boyle was under criminal investigation when he and his wife and kids met with Justin Trudeau.  It’s obvious, however, that Trudeau didn’t know that: there isn’t a political advisor alive – outside of Donald Trump’s circle, that is – who would knowingly put his or her boss in a meeting with a criminal, or a soon-to-be-alleged one.

It was in Joshua Boyle’s interest to get those photos published, because they potentially put a Crown prosecutor in a bit of a bind.  So we know Boyle didn’t tell Trudeau what was coming, in just two week’s time.

But what of the RCMP?  What of the Privy Council Office, Trudeau’s personal bureaucracy?  Didn’t they know?  Why not, if not?  And if they did, why didn’t they warn Trudeau not to meet with Joshua Boyle?

If the Mounties knew Boyle was about to be charged, and declined to tell Trudeau’s staff, it would be a massive scandal – but not the first time it has happened.  During this writer’s tenure on the Hill, it was well-known that the RCMP, CSIS and/or the uniformed guys and gals at the department of National Defence would sometimes place their political masters in harm’s way, so as to (a) be rid of them or (b) acquire leverage to be deployed at budget time or whatever.

Would PCO have known?  Perhaps, but highly unlikely.  The Privy Council Office mainly provides advice to the Prime Minister and his or her government.  In my experience, PCO is highly controversy-adverse.  They write memos and place ATIP-less yellow sticky notes on binders: they are not in the business of manufacturing scandal.  PCO dislikes scandal.

For now, no one is talking on the record about who knew what, and when they knew it.  We can be reasonably assured that Justin Trudeau and his senior staff are justifiably unhappy, and have had some interesting chats with the RCMP.  When it returns at months’-end, angry questions in the House of Commons are inevitable.

In the meantime, however, the most bland explanation for l’affaire Boyle is the most likely: Joshua Boyle asked for a meeting, no one objected, so Justin Trudeau agreed.

Sometimes – as with homeless guys, just as it is with a former hostage of the Taliban – these things simply happen.


  1. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Pedant says:

    Good piece and liked the Chretien anecdote. I generally agree and will give Trudeau the benefit of the doubt on this. Partly because I believe he is what Blatchford indicated and therefore not wholly responsible for his actions.

    One small quibble. I read the Selley piece you refer to. I think what he referred to as “legendary” is a possible eventual backlash against the PM’s childish man-boy behaviour, not in response to the Boyle affair specifically.

    – Sticking his tongue out at Opposition MPs.
    – Throwing a tantrum and knocking over a female MP.
    – Reading a Wikipedia page about quantum physics, regurgitating the content for the media, and pretending to be a scientific genius for it (sounds kinda Trumpian doesn’t it?).
    – Photo-bombing highschoolers taking prom photos in Vancouver.
    – The selfies (obviously)
    – I vaguely recall an episode a couple months after the election during which he was doing weird muscle flexing in a group photo with members of the military (or something of that nature)
    – Most recently, posing for a photo wearing a juvenile sweater that is insulting to Canadians of the Christian faith

    Selley wasn’t necessarily predicting that a backlash WILL occur, only that it might. How long before even the most devoted T2 fans start to roll their eyes?

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    Matt says:

    There of is of course another option:

    Trudeau was advised against the meeting (even if the information about Boyle being under criminal investigation wasn’t known, his past should have made him toxic for a face to face) and Trudeau simply ignored it.

    The PMO isn’t helping with bullshit explanation after bullshit explanation as to why Trudeau met with him. Carrying on the tradition of recent PM’s who met with freed hostages? None of Harper, Martin or Chretien ment with freed hostages. Swing and a miss PMO. They won’t say if they knew about the criminal investigation prior to the meeting. That tells me they did, otherwise why not just come out and say “No, we had no idea”.

    Personally I don’t believe a word of Boyle’s story.

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    Jack Hitchcock says:

    Hi Warren,

    Normally I respect and agree with your positions, but as a former political staffer, I have to say you’re way off base.

    This is not just a “shit happens” situation. This is a bunch of like-minded staffers not truly and critically thinking this through and/or asking the right questions.

    As much as we want to believe and sympathize with the Boyle-Coleman family – especially the children – this story has had big flashing red flags from minute one.

    Any political staffer’s job is to protect their boss and the government they represent. There were way too many questions about the family’s, and Joshua Boyle’s in particular, actions and story. Or stories, as it were.

    I would have strongly recommended against my Ministers meeting with them. There were too many unanswered questions and uncorroborated stories about the family’s ordeal, along with Joshua Boyle’s checkered past with Zaynab Khadr.

    Simply put, based on the large number of unanswered questions – even before Joshua Boyle’s legal charges – the reputational risk did not justify the (questionable) rewards. Few Canadians empathize with the Boyle-Colemans beyond hoping the children aren’t too scarred by their experiences. Most want more answers before emotionally investing in the whole family.

    The bigger question may be what did CSIS and the RCMP know about the Boyle-Coleman family’s capture, captivity and rescue? How thoroughly were they questioned and debriefed immediately upon their return? What follow-up did government agencies do with the family? While there is no evidence of Boyle’s allegiances to enemies of our country, in a lot of ways, these questions are particularly relevant as the government attempts to re-integrate (hopefully) former ISIS fighters and sympathizers.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. Your insight is invaluable.

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    Jim Keegan says:

    “Joshua Boyle, the father, is a Canadian and was tortured and beaten. Caitlan Coleman, his American wife, was raped.”

    Were they, though? We only have Boyle’s word on that and nothing he has done or said should cause one to accept his statements at face value. Were they even hostages in the truest sense? Or were they working hand in hand with the Taliban to try to extract a ransom payment from the Canadian government? This story simply does not pass the smell test and Trudeau was a naive fool to have given Boyle and family an audience, with or without the criminal charges.

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    Jim Keegan says:

    No angst from this Conservative supporter, Scott; in fact, I’m LMAO at Justin’s latest mis-step. In short order, the Canadian public has been served up Omar Khadr, the Morneau fiasco, the Aga Khan improprieties and now, the messy Boyle affair. I may have missed one or two others. Tell me, is there *anything* he could do that would evoke the slightest criticism from you?

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      Matt says:

      No. There is nothing Trudeau could do that Scott wouldn’t dismiss as a, what’s the term, “nothing burger”

      He has become what he used to hate, A Liberal version of a “HarperCon” A hyper partisan who can’t admit when his guy screws up.

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      Howard says:

      Sorry to dent your delusion Scott, but…

      1) If T2 is responsible for Canada’s “booming” economy, then who’s responsible for the even “booming-er” economy in the US?

      2) Respect from whom? The Chinese and the Japanese aren’t too impressed. Trump doesn’t know he’s alive. The Europeans haven’t shown much interest. Who respects him more than they respected Harper? Or is this another manifestation of the Trump-like “Canada is back!” twaddle?

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    Cathy says:

    What was in it for Trudeau since he didn’t tell anyone about the meeting? Certainly wasn’t for photo ops.

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