Among the hazards of public life are the photo ops that come back to haunt you. Our snap-happy Prime Minister is a case in point. Since the tropical vacation with his old friend, the Aga Khan, that cheery photo of the two of them on Parliament Hill has been rerun a thousand times. Whenever people see the picture they remember the private island, and thus it will ever be.
Now there's the Boyle family. If you didn't know the backstory, the photos of their meeting with Justin Trudeau are positively heartwarming. After all, these are the hostages who were dramatically rescued from the clutches of the Taliban in October. The PM met with them just before Christmas. He looks caring and compassionate. The baby Boyle he's bouncing on his knee looks adorable. It's a happy ending to a gruesome story.
Except that Joshua Boyle has now been charged with a string of serious criminal offences, including sexual and physical assault and unlawful confinement. How could the Prime Minister and his people not have known he was under investigation? And if they did, why did they go ahead? Suddenly, Mr. Trudeau no longer looks caring and compassionate. He just looks stupid.
Who vetted Mr. Boyle? How could the PM's security people not know that he was under investigation for serious crimes? Where was the PR team? What did the briefing notes say? Did Mr. Trudeau even read them? His people are staying mum. All they'll say is that the meeting happened. They can scarcely deny it. One report says it was Mr. Boyle who requested the meeting. Mr. Boyle, who is reportedly a PR hound, flooded social media with the visuals. "Today was a wonderful experience for my family, and Ma'idah Grace Makepeace seemed truly enamoured," he tweeted. "Incidentally, not our first meeting with @JustinTrudeau, that was '06 in Toronto over other common interests, haha."
Mr. Boyle was a sketchy character long before his current entanglement with the law. He has a long-running obsession with terrorism and national security. Years ago, he was briefly married to Zaynab Khadr, Omar's militant and infamous sister. To the fury of half the country, Omar recently collected a $10.5-million settlement from the Canadian government for the injustices he suffered as a teenage prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. Critics called Mr. Trudeau soft on terror.
Somewhere along the line, Mr. Boyle converted to Islam. After he and Zaynab divorced, he married an American named Caitlan Coleman. He took his heavily pregnant wife on a backpacking trip to the wilds of Afghanistan, where they were promptly taken captive. They remained hostages for five years. After the birth of their first child they had two more children in captivity – because, as Mr. Boyle later explained, they wanted a big family and wanted to get started. After they were freed, he reportedly refused to leave Pakistan on a U.S. military plane.
The hardships of captivity must have been very great. Ms. Coleman says she was raped in captivity, and suffered a forced abortion. Still, there's something more than a little off-kilter about Mr. Boyle. He was the one who led them into certain danger in the first place. Much of the story is still to be revealed. What led him to Afghanistan in the first place? Did he hope to join the extremists? What are the true circumstances of their release (which was billed as a triumph by U.S. President Donald Trump)? Whom did he allegedly assault? A publication ban prevents the media from naming names, although The Telegraph of London cites the alleged victims as "two unnamed women.") Is all of this a result of post-traumatic stress disorder?
"Ultimately it is the strain and trauma he was forced to endure for so many years and the effects that that had on his mental state," said his wife in a statement to the Toronto Star. "It is with compassion and forgiveness that I say I hope help and healing can be found for him."
A detailed portrait of Mr. Boyle in Maclean's paints him as a controlling and manipulative figure with a streak of grandiosity and a love of publicity. We also know that he is exceedingly unpopular with Ms. Coleman's family. "Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me, and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable," her father, Jim, told ABC News after their release.
From a PR point of view, Mr. Trudeau's meeting with the family can only reinforce the notion that he's soft on terror. This is the Prime Minister who recently spoke about "reintegration" programs as a way to deal with returning jihadis. While Mr. Boyle is by no means a terrorist, he also seems to have gone out of his way to seek out the company of people that a lot of Canadians perceive as bad guys.
A prime minister with functioning political antennae would have been alert to the dangers of associating with Mr. Boyle. Mr. Trudeau was not. The same is true of his vacation with the Aga Khan, which was a bad idea even if it hadn't broken the ethics law. I can't think of any recent predecessor – of either party – who would have made such dumb mistakes. And these are easy cases. What might happen with the hard ones?