Joshua Boyle, accused of assault, says he tried to build wife's self-esteem

OTTAWA — Former hostage Joshua Boyle, accused of assaulting wife Caitlan Coleman, denies he told her how to dress, limited her contact with other men or generally belittled her during their sometimes fractious courtship.

Boyle has testified at his trial in Ontario court that he bought Coleman clothes to help her project a more mature image, and discouraged her from associating with a couple of people he considered bad for her.

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The Crown began cross-examining Boyle on Thursday and continued probing his evidence Friday.

Coleman has told the court that in the early days of their roller-coaster relationship, Boyle would often demean her. Over time, he became controlling, telling her how to behave and what to wear, she said. Emotional and verbal abuse later became punches and slaps to the face.

Prosecutor Jason Neubauer, drawing on Coleman's testimony, said Boyle had told Coleman she was not a good person.

"I don't make those general characterizations," Boyle replied.

He said he wasn't overly concerned with whether she even wore the clothes he purchased.

"She was free to wear it or not as she wanted," Boyle said. "I never said to her she had to wear anything."

Boyle told the court that while he was sometimes critical of Coleman, he wanted to help build her self-esteem as she struggled with emotional issues. He has portrayed her as unstable and prone to fits, saying she would sometimes attack him, even clawing at his eyes.

"Her well-being was a principal concern of mine," he said. "I wanted her to get better."

Boyle said he was among a chorus of people who advised her to get professional help. "I entered a relationship knowing it would bring chaos and pain."

The couple met online in 2002, married in 2011 and took a backpacking trip through central Asia the next year.

Boyle, 36, has pleaded not guilty to offences against Coleman, including assault, sexual assault and unlawful confinement in the period of October to December 2017.

The offences are alleged to have taken place after the couple returned to Canada following five years as hostages of Taliban-linked extremists. They couple were seized just outside Kabul in 2012 during a stay in Afghanistan, a country Boyle had long wanted to visit.

Boyle has been calm and composed during his time in the witness box, though exchanges with Neubauer became testy at times Friday.

Neubauer dissected Boyle's history with Coleman with the apparent aim of painting him as self-interested and manipulative.

He suggested Boyle had "greatly exaggerated" Coleman's emotional problems.

"If all these things were true, there's no way you would have agreed to marry her," Neubauer said.

Neubauer pointed to a letter Boyle had sent to Coleman during a time they spent apart, citing it as another attempt by Boyle to control her.

In the note, Boyle asked Coleman to be mindful of "the need to wear your lingerie before bed, or to wear the corset and stockings next time you write to me, or to think what should I cook that Josh likes, sometimes."

Boyle played down the suggestion he was ordering his wife how to behave. "I'm not sure what my intention was in writing this letter."

Boyle, who studied journalism and hoped to chronicle wars, dismissed the notion he wanted to go to strife-torn Afghanistan because he felt the Taliban was misunderstood. "I wanted a better understanding of the entire country as a whole."

He also denied any suggestion Coleman, while willing to travel in central Asia, didn't want to go to Afghanistan. The couple knew she was pregnant before heading there.

"She was insistent she wanted to come with me from the beginning," he said, adding he didn't have the right to stop her.

"I laid out the options for her. I understood it increased the risk to her and the risk to me."

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

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