News / Canada

Mother of ex-hostage speaks out on ‘victim shaming,’ Joshua Boyle and her ‘disgust’ with Ottawa

Speaking to the Star Monday, Lorinda Stewart revealed behind-the-scenes details of how it took ransom and the help of a private security firm to free her daughter — a task Ottawa could not achieve.

Lorinda Stewart, left, and former hostage Amanda Lindhout offered compassion and advice for the families of freed Taliban captives Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman on Monday.

Torstar News Service Order this photo

Lorinda Stewart, left, and former hostage Amanda Lindhout offered compassion and advice for the families of freed Taliban captives Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman on Monday.

Lorinda Stewart was dismayed when the Hollywood ending she had played over and over again in her mind during the 460 days her daughter was held hostage in Somalia didn’t unfold as she envisioned.

“I was shocked by the skeletal girl standing before me,” Stewart writes in her newly-released book, One Day Closer, about the time she first saw her freed daughter Amanda Lindhout in a Nairobi hospital in November 2009.

“But hardest to bear was her eyes, surrounded by dark circles. They were haunted with experiences of pain and sadness that no one else could comprehend. Any fantasies I had held about Amanda’s release and our return to our ‘before’ life were shattered. We had a very long journey still ahead of us.”

They also offered compassion and advice for the families of Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle, whose story continues to unfold since the couple’s dramatic rescue Wednesday in Pakistan, along with their three children. The couple had been held for five years by the Afghanistan-based Haqqani network — their two sons and daughter were all born in captivity.

“I truly hope for the families people will be kind and put down their judgments as people really don’t know the facts of the whole story,” Stewart said about the couple, who were kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2012, during a backpacking trip.

“My experience of those first years post-release, it was really difficult to reintegrate and come back into the world fundamentally a changed person,” Lindhout said. “I found it difficult to access the kind of psychological care that I really needed after that kind of specific and unique trauma. I remember feeling quite lost and had really bad post-traumatic stress disorder, but not really understanding my condition.”

She also remembers the “victim shaming” — questions as to why as a freelance journalist would venture into war-torn Somalia. “When I’m reading the commentary online for Josh and Caitlan my heart really goes out to them and I hope they’re trying to avoid it as much as possible and focus on their recovery.”

Lindhout wrote a book about her ordeal, A House in the Sky, which has been a bestseller since 2013. Her mother’s memoir fills in the details of what she couldn’t have known during her agonizing captivity.

Stewart’s book’s title was the mantra both she and her daughter, unbeknown to each other, would repeat to themselves each day: “One day closer” to release.

Aside from being a love story between a mother who refused to lose hope and her strong-willed daughter, Stewart’s book is also an indictment of the Canadian government’s handling of the case.

“I have a long list of people to forgive, coming out of this, and definitely I’m still struggling with the government, and how they handled us, how they managed us,” Stewart said Monday.

Her intimate and detailed description of Ottawa’s involvement confirms what an eight-part Torstar News Service investigation found in December. With more than 50 interviews to gather first-time accounts from families, hostages, witnesses, government, military, intelligence officials and private security consultants, the Star found that Ottawa’s kidnapping protocols were in dire need of an overhaul.

In her book, she writes of how she put all her faith into Ottawa and followed the instructions of the RCMP, whose negotiators kept telling her they never had a failure in 17 years. She became the chief contact with the kidnappers and moved into a home that became their “war room,” which was staffed 24/7 with RCMP liaison officers.

Sometimes her phone would ring constantly but she was told she could not answer and not told why. Stewart writes of her agony, breaking down at the thought of her daughter on the other end, thinking she had been abandoned.

“At one point, the negotiator on duty that day told me that if I tried to answer the phone he would rip it out of the wall,” Stewart wrote. “That comment hurt and puzzled me. I had pretty much been a model co-operative agent.”

Stewart was largely kept in the dark about what Ottawa was doing — but was then given the monumental and emotional task of being the main contact with the kidnappers.

Above all, she was forbidden from trying to raise ransom money — which was the kidnappers’ demand. This caused friction with the family of Australian photographer Nigel Brennan, who was taken along with Lindhout.

Then nearly a year after Lindhout was kidnapped, Ottawa told her that she should find a new place to live — the war room in Alberta was shutting down because, “the lack of progress no longer justifies our expense.”

Stewart’s feeling of abandonment grew to “disgust” with Ottawa’s handling of the case.

“After our unwavering allegiance to Ottawa, we began to realize the extent to which we had been skilfully managed through promises, lies and the philosophy of reciprocity,” she writes.

Three hundred and forty days into her daughter’s captivity, she began fundraising and, along with Brennan’s family, hired the private security firm AKE. It told her negotiations for ransom typically lasted for three months, and they suggested hiring a Somali translator to help her talk with the kidnapper’s contact, who called himself “Adam.”

“It changed things immediately. If we would have had a translator right at the very beginning, I’m sure we could have avoided all of the colossal misunderstandings” Stewart said Monday.

Ali Omar Ader, the man Stewart knew by phone as

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ali Omar Ader, the man Stewart knew by phone as "Adam," shown in court in an artist's sketch.

Forty days and a ransom of about $600,000 later, Lindhout and Brennan were free.

Although in principle both mother and daughter agree ransoms should not be paid and understand why governments cannot — they say relatives should not fear criminal sanctions if they decide to pay when their loved one’s life is at risk. “It’s against the law and punishable by jail time if you pay a ransom. Clearly we would feel that is really unfair and doesn’t serve anybody, because ransoms are going to be paid,” Lindhout said.

While both Stewart and Lindhout’s books are heartbreaking, they say their lives now are the exact opposite. “Who we are today is because of the choices we make … and we choose to be happy after the fact,” Stewart said. “This is only a part of who we are, it’s not who we are.”

As they talk to the journalists in Toronto this week about Stewart’s book, in Ottawa, the trial of one of Lindhout’s alleged kidnappers wraps up.

The man Stewart knew by phone as “Adam,” was lured to Canada by the RCMP on a promise of his own book deal and arrested for her kidnapping upon arrival.

Mother and daughter both testified earlier this month and say they are tremendously relieved that their involvement is over.

“I’m definitely not attached to any outcome. But I never was,” Lindhout said about the verdict, as her mother agreed. “My healing was never contingent on those guys — any one of them — being in jail. I just trust the system and the process, as he too is living his destiny.”

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