Undoubtedly, she will be hailed in some quarters for “finding her voice” and “speaking her truth,” but the fact is Caitlan Coleman’s recent media tour is at the least improper.
She of course is the 33-year-old American who was held hostage in Afghanistan for five years with her estranged Canadian husband Joshua Boyle.
This week, she has given lengthy interviews to both CBC News and ABC News, each of which noted Coleman was “speaking out for the first time” since the couple’s return to Canada in the fall of 2017.
But Coleman is in the middle of testifying against Boyle, the chief complainant accusing him of multiple offences including sexual assault.
As a witness, she should be speaking to no one about the case.
The trial was adjourned in April so her lawyer, Ian Carter, could try to overturn a decision by the judge that would see Coleman questioned about her sexual activities with Boyle.
It was on April 3, the last day of evidence before the trial was side-tracked by legal arguments, that Ontario Court Judge Peter Doody warned her about this.
“You did not complete your evidence,” Doody told her, “but in all the circumstances, you can return home (to the United States).
“You’re going to be able to (continue) on video,” he said, referring to an arrangement, agreed to by Boyle’s defence team, that would see Coleman testify long-distance.
As the main caregiver of four young children, with her mother and sister the prosecutor’s next anticipated witnesses, travelling to and from the Ottawa court and particularly, arranging for child care in their absence, was difficult for her.
But then Doody said, according to my imperfect notes, “Because you’re a witness, you’re not allowed to talk about the evidence with any other witness in the case.”
I thought at the time that it was a pointed reminder she wasn’t to speak about the case with her relatives. I have no notes of Doody reminding her, in general, not to otherwise speak about the case, but he might have — I have heard this caution so many times I sometimes don’t write it down — and in any event, it was certainly implied.
And Coleman is not just an ordinary witness, but a complainant-witness, the main one in her husband’s trial.
The 35-year-old Boyle is pleading not guilty to a raft of 19 charges, ranging from criminal harassment to uttering a death threat to multiple counts of assault against Coleman. Two charges of sexual assault, one with a weapon, are among the counts.
He remains on restrictive bail conditions that include wearing and paying almost $700 a month for an ankle monitoring device.
Furthermore, while the CBC interview at least paid lip service to the fact that the case is ongoing and thus the network “is limited in what it can report because Boyle’s trial has not concluded,” ABC showed no such restraint.
It named the couple’s four children, all under seven, whose names in this country are protected by a publication ban.
The CBC story is accompanied by pictures of Coleman at a playground with two of the younger children, their backs to the camera.
ABC also quoted Coleman as saying, of Boyle, “I was actually more afraid of him than of the captors.”
The ABC story was a plug for an “exclusive” interview with Coleman on the Nightline show slated to air just after midnight Wednesday.
Interestingly, Boyle’s lawyers, Lawrence Greenspon and Eric Granger, had managed to make some dents in Coleman’s credibility during cross-examination.
She acknowledged that she herself had a short fuse and had been a self-harmer as a younger woman (she cut her arms and legs on a razor blade and even “probably” bit herself) and had once given Boyle a shove on a Toronto subway platform.
He, of course, painted the latter as an attempt to kill him: They are if nothing else a floridly dramatic pair.
But most critically, Coleman agreed with Greenspon that her memory was full of holes and that she’d once told a police officer that “memories can be invented or inserted” and that she might be “taking” the details of one alleged sexual assault “from somewhere else.”
But she was quick to rebuke the lawyer for making too much of it, once telling him righteously, “I’m a little uncomfortable with how this is… it’s a little intimidating. It’s kind of triggering to how Josh treated me sometimes.”
And when confronted with discrepancies in her evidence, she several times objected to what transcripts of her testimony or statements had her saying.
Once, she snapped, “I don’t know how this is recorded. If it is a transcript, it is not perfectly recorded.”
The trial is tentatively scheduled to resume July 2, with the continuation of Coleman’s testimony by video.
But that scheduling depends on how fast the appeal judge, Ontario Superior Court Judge Ronald Laliberte, can rule — whether or not he finds that Doody properly followed procedure and correctly ruled that Greenspon would be able to ask Coleman limited questions about the couple’s alleged consensual sexual activities.
There is plenty of time, still, in other words, for more “exclusive interviews” where Coleman, the witness and complainant, can set the table publicly for her return to the box.