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Pulpit & Politics

Dennis Gruending

Dennis Gruending


Valuable lesson to be learned from former captives

Canadians recently witnessed two post-hostage dramas unfold on the national stage, and there are lessons to be learned from each. On Oct. 11, after five years in captivity, Canadian Joshua Boyle, his American wife Caitlin Coleman and their three young children were rescued from their captors by Pakistani troops. It followed a shootout in Pakistan’s rugged border area, which is shared with Afghanistan.

On the same day, Canadian Amanda Lindhout appeared in an Ottawa courtroom. She faced a Somali man who she says was one of her hostage-takers during 460 days of captivity — between 2008 and 2009 — in the east African country.

Boyle and Coleman spent months travelling in Central Asia after their marriage in 2011 before deciding to backpack in Afghanistan. Coleman was pregnant at the time. In 2012, they were kidnapped, and in exchange for their release, their captors demanded a ransom payment and freedom for various Taliban prisoners. In videos issued in 2016, Coleman pleaded with U.S. President Barack Obama to secure their liberty.

Following his family’s release, Boyle described himself to reporters as a “pilgrim” and said that he and his wife went to Afghanistan to help villagers, who he described as “the most neglected minority group in the world.” He claimed that he was going where “no NGO, no aid worker and no government has ever been successfully able to bring the necessary help.” Of course, these are delusional comments from someone who lacked the education, experience, resources and local contacts to become the humanitarian helper that he believed himself to be.

Similarly, Lindhout was ill-prepared when she found herself in Somalia in 2008. She used money saved from her job as a server in Red Deer, Alta., to travel extensively on a shoestring budget. At some point, though, she decided to become a war correspondent although she had no training or relevant experience. She then went to Mogadishu with her then boyfriend Nigel Brennan, an Australian freelance photographer, and the two were kidnapped and held captive for 15 months. Lindhout has since described how she lived in filthy conditions and how she was gang-raped by her captors in Somalia.

In a strange twist, however, the RCMP — working undercover — eventually lured one of those captors to Canada, and he is now on trial in Ottawa for criminal hostage-taking. In a September 2009 tape recording, which was played in court, Lindhout tells her mother that she is being tortured and begs her to come up with the ransom money. Her mother had a minimum wage job at the time, and Lindhout’s father was on long-term disability. But Lindhout’s and Brennan’s family eventually managed to raise the money needed to free them.

Lindhout, today, has seemingly moved on from the ordeal. Assisted by a reporter from The New York Times, she wrote a book about her early life and her time as a hostage, and it became a bestseller before an American production company purchased the film rights. What’s more, Lindhout is on the international speakers’ circuit.

Nevertheless, what she and Boyle had in common was a reckless naiveté, which placed their own lives at risk, caused grief and suffering to their families, and provided an unnecessary distraction for both the Canadian and American governments.

This article is a slightly expanded version of one that was published by the United Church Observer ( on October, 20, 2017. Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer and a former member of Parliament. His blog can be found at