Caitlan Coleman, who was backpacking in Afghanistan with husband Joshua Boyle when the pair were seized by extremists in 2012, told a judge Wednesday her spouse regularly punished her with spankings for arguing with him or disobeying his wishes.
Coleman, 33, recounted in court how the two met online when she was 16 and began a complicated on-and-off relationship before marrying in 2011 in Costa Rica and travelling the following year to central Asia.
She said that in the early days of their rollercoaster courtship, her future spouse would often belittle and demean her. Over time, he became controlling, telling her how to behave and what to wear. Emotional and verbal abuse later became punches and slaps to the face, Coleman said.
In Ontario court, Boyle, 35, has pleaded not guilty to several offences against Coleman, including assault, sexual assault and unlawful confinement, that allegedly took place after the couple were freed by Pakistani forces and had returned to Canada in late 2017.
Coleman testified via closed-circuit television from a separate room Wednesday to avoid being in the main courtroom with her estranged husband. She spoke in a matter-of-fact manner, breaking down in tears only once near the end of a long day of telling her story.
Boyle, joined by his parents in the courtroom’s public gallery, sat impassively throughout her testimony.
The Pennsylvania-raised Coleman said that early on in the relationship, Boyle insulted her, told her she wasn’t good enough and made her question her self-worth.
She said he became agitated when she suggested in 2008 they go their separate ways, calling her repeatedly and even threatening to kill himself.
“I did still love him, so I felt very sad,” Coleman told the court.
In 2009, Boyle married Zaynab Khadr, sister of Toronto-born Omar Khadr, who spent years in a U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after he was captured in Afghanistan.
Coleman resumed contact with Boyle and met the newlywed couple for lunch during a visit to Toronto that summer. While walking Coleman to her hotel, Boyle told her she was the love of his life and that they would be together, she testified.
“It made me feel really happy,” she said. “I wanted to go through that door.”
Coleman said Boyle insisted, since she would be his wife, that she must dress conservatively, shun alcohol and not associate with other men.
Boyle moved to New Brunswick and Coleman joined him, though she was not keen on the move. She said Boyle shocked her by saying Khadr, to whom he was still married, would come live with them.
However, Boyle did divorce his wife and he and Coleman wed during a lengthy trip to Central America in July 2011.
Boyle loathed North America and pressed Coleman to go to central Asia, she said. She learned she was pregnant in June 2012, and the couple headed to Asia soon after. After a few months, Boyle insisted they visit Afghanistan despite Coleman’s vehement objections. They were there just a week when they were captured by a Taliban-linked group.
Coleman gave birth to three children while in captivity.
The couple were physically abused by their captors, Coleman told the court. But she said she also suffered violence at the hands of her husband, including spankings on her buttocks as often as three times a week, punches and slaps to the face, choking and biting.
In spring 2017, Boyle told her she was a bad person and must stay in the shower area of the room in which the family was being held, she said.
“I was not in love with him anymore, I was afraid of him,” she told the court. “This was probably the darkest period of my whole life.”
Following their October 2017 release, the couple flew back to Canada and lived with Boyle’s parents in Smiths Falls, Ont., before moving to Ottawa.
Initially, they spent time in a hotel. Coleman said following one argument, Boyle ordered her to sit in the shower, then forced her to take three tablets of Trazodone, an anti-depressant.
Boyle made a late-night 911 call on Dec. 30, 2017, to say Coleman had run screaming from their Ottawa apartment, threatening to kill herself.
Police responded and found Coleman just over an hour later at a downtown hotel with her mother Lyn, who was visiting from the U.S.
Ottawa police Sgt. Shane Henderson has told the court that Coleman provided a detailed statement saying she was trying to get away from her husband because he had threatened to kill her and had assaulted her “numerous times,” including just hours earlier.
Boyle was arrested in the early hours of Dec. 31, 2017.
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