Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he followed the advice of his security personnel during his private meeting with Joshua Boyle, which took place two weeks before police laid 15 charges against the former Afghanistan hostage.
In an interview with The Sheldon MacLeod Show in Halifax's 95.7FM Tuesday, Trudeau was asked to respond to criticism that the meeting reflects poorly on his judgment or the quality of the advice he receives from staff.
"We make sure that we follow all the advice that our security professionals and intelligence agencies give us and that's exactly what we did in this case," Trudeau said.
Appearing on the show to mark the kickoff to his cross-country town hall tour, Trudeau was also asked if he regrets meeting with Boyle. The prime minister suggested the move reflects how his government has been "very active" on consular cases.
"We've had a number of successes in bringing people who were stuck in difficult situations overseas home, bringing them to safety. The engagement that my office has directly with those cases has led me to meet with a number of people who have been released," Trudeau said.
"So, these kinds of things are something that I do. I always try to defer to meeting with more people rather than fewer people, and particularly people for whom we've been working hard over the past years. I think that's something that is important to do."
Trudeau sat down with Boyle, his American wife Caitlan Coleman and their three children in Ottawa last month. A government official told The Canadian Press that the prime minister met the family members at their request.
I always try to defer to meeting with more people rather than fewer people, and particularly people for whom we've been working hard over the past years. I think that's something that is important to do.Justin Trudeau
Photos of the meeting were posted on a Twitter account attributed to the family on Dec. 19 and generated buzz after Boyle was charged late last month with a number of offences, including sexual assault, alleged to have taken place between Oct. 14 and Dec. 30.
Some columnists have since criticized Trudeau for not avoiding the sit-down, largely because of Boyle's brief marriage to Zaynab Khadr, a sister of Omar Khadr's who once expressed support for al-Qaeda.
Others have charged that the meeting raises security questions because it took place while police may have been investigating Boyle. Tory Sen. Vern White, a former Ottawa police chief, told The Toronto Sun the Prime Minister's Office should have known police were looking into Boyle ahead of the meeting.
Though federal Conservatives have not released an official statement on the matter, Tory public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus has questioned how the PM got "caught" in such a situation.
Comment un premier ministre peut se faire prendre comme ça? Même dans l'opposition nous avions des informations qui...Posted by Pierre Paul-Hus on Tuesday, 2 January 2018
Boyle, 34, and Coleman, 31, were taken hostage in 2012 by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network while backpacking in Afghanistan. Coleman was pregnant at the time and told The Toronto Star she suffered a forced abortion and rape at the hands of their captors.
The couple and the three kids that they had during their five years in in captivity were freed by Pakistani forces in October.
Boyle made a brief video appearance in Ottawa court Monday and is set to do so again next week. He faces eight counts of assault, two counts of sexual assault, two counts of unlawful confinement, one count of causing someone to take a noxious thing, one count of misleading a police officer, and one count of uttering a death threat.
All offences are alleged to have occurred after Boyle returned to Canada.The charges relate to two alleged victims but a court order prohibits publication of information that could identify them or witnesses.
Boyle's lawyers have stressed that their client has never been in trouble with the law and has no criminal record.
With files from The Canadian Press