Opinion

PMO must open up more about Boyle affair, Trudeau’s judgment rightly questioned

There is being empathetic, but there is also getting played by someone who shouldn’t be within spitting distance of the PM.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured on Dec. 19, 2017, with Joshua Boyle, Mr. Boyle’s wife Caitlan Coleman, and their children, in his Hill office, as posted on the Boyles' Twitter account. Photograph courtesy of @BoylesVsWorld

PUBLISHED :Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018 12:00 AM

OTTAWA—Who thought the Showtime hit drama Homeland was fiction? Because it seems we now have a copycat program playing out for real in Canada. Yes, the Joshua Boyle-Justin Trudeau meeting and the subsequent charges laid against Boyle have the feel of life imitating art.

The oddity of Joshua Boyle and his lived experience has been well chronicled by others. Being odd is not a crime or many of us would be permanently incarcerated. But many of Boyle’s choices, from backpacking in a war-ravaged region of Afghanistan to refusing to take a United States military flight after being freed from captivity, should give even the most open-minded person pause for thought. Never mind his connection to the Khadr family, having previously been married to Zaynab, the sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr.

While it won’t make my Conservative friends happy to read this, I do believe Justin Trudeau is an empathetic person. It is most often both a personal and political strength for him. So far, it has served him well in federal politics. Perhaps it was this empathy that influenced the prime minister’s decision to grant Boyle a meeting with him in December after Boyle requested it. The government line on the Trudeau-Boyle meeting was something to the effect that the prime minister “would grant the same meeting to any Canadian who had gone through a similarly harrowing experience,” according to the National Post.

Joshua Boyle wasn’t just any other Canadian who apparently had been kidnapped. He wasn’t Amanda Lindhout or Bob Fowler, for example, who are other Canadians who went through atrocious ordeals of captivity. With Boyle, there were obvious red flags for political leaders, political staff, and security officials that would normally have made it difficult for him to get access to the prime minister, let alone have that access showcased via posts shared by the Boyles on social media.

  

Without knowing more facts or the back-story, Justin Trudeau’s judgment is rightly being questioned. There is being empathetic and open-minded, but there is also getting played by someone who shouldn’t be within spitting distance of our prime minister. It is hard now to see how both a Boyle-PM meeting and a Boyle photo essay shared with the world on Twitter benefits anybody but Boyle.

The prime minister and his office need to share more about the Boyle audience. It seems implausible to believe that at some level a security review of Boyle didn’t discover that he was under investigation by the police at the time of his meeting with Trudeau. Former Ottawa police chief Vern White, a current Conservative Senator, told media outlets that there is only one system where names under investigation are inputted, so if Trudeau’s security officers ran Boyle’s name it should have come up. My experience with members of the prime minister’s protection detail is they are highly skilled professionals and thorough in the work they do; it’s hard to imagine them not checking out Boyle.

This is a story that shouldn’t go away or get caught up in partisan crossfire. Not only does it raise issues of prime ministerial judgment, it also highlights matters of security operations. Less than three weeks after meeting our PM, someone who met him is charged with 15 different things including assault, sexual assault, uttering a death threat, and misleading police, though none have been proven in court. These charges didn’t appear overnight. Could the prime minister’s safety have been in jeopardy?

It all does read like the plot line of Homeland. It shouldn’t, and maybe it wouldn’t if further details were made public. For now, Justin Trudeau’s Boyle meeting creates political vulnerability for the government and a long-term link to this saga. It restarts two negative narratives the Liberals would prefer to stay dormant: one of the prime minister’s judgment and the other whether he is soft on security.

  

Tim Powers is vice-chairman of Summa Strategies and managing director of Abacus Data. He is a former adviser to Conservative political leaders.

The Hill Times