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Famous Canadian SF writer beaten up by Border Cops

   Thu, February 18, 2010 - 1:21 PM
My own experience with the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security certainly pales in comparison with what happened to Dr. Peter Watts, a famous Canadian science fiction author who has written six books, and has a PhD in Marine Biology.

He had been helping a friend and colleague, a former Professor from the University of Toronto, move to the United States. The rental car they had been driving broke down in the U.S., so the rental company provided them with a new car. Dr. Watts was driving this rental car back FROM the United States, and into Canada. He was stopped at a Border checkpoint where his car would be searched at the exit.

Dr. Watts stepped out of the car and said "Why? What's going on?" According to him, he was swarmed by U.S. Customs border guards, who punched him in the stomach and face. He was then pepper-sprayed, shit-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell for three hours. Then, he was put into an orange jumpsuit and placed in an even colder jail cell overnight. The next day he was released, without his car, without his coat and wearing only shirt sleeves, walking away from the border as Canada's first winter storm approached.

What was he charged with?

"Assaulting a border customs officer."

This is a felony offense. If convicted, he could spend two years in jail. The border guards claimed that Peter Watts tried to choke one of them. Suspiciously, although they have cameras at that border checkpoint none of the tapes were submitted as evidence.

IN Peter Watt's own words:

"Along some other timeline, I did not get out of the car to ask what was going on. I did not repeat that question when refused an answer and told to get back into the vehicle. In that other timeline I was not punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, shit-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell for three fucking hours, thrown into an even colder jail cell overnight, arraigned, and charged with assaulting a federal officer, all without access to legal representation (although they did try to get me to waive my Miranda rights. Twice.). Nor was I finally dumped across the border in shirtsleeves: computer seized, flash drive confiscated, even my fucking paper notepad withheld until they could find someone among their number literate enough to distinguish between handwritten notes on story ideas and, I suppose, nefarious terrorist plots. I was not left without my jacket in the face of Ontario's first winter storm, after all buses and intercity shuttles had shut down for the night.

"In some other universe I am warm and content and not looking at spending two years in jail for the crime of having been punched in the face."

Dr. Peter Watts publicly vowed that he would never set foot in the United States again, so long as George W. Bush was in office. Once Obama was elected, Dr. Watts evidently thought it was safe to enter (or even leave) the United States again. Apparently this is untrue.

Cory Doctorow, the award winning author of 'Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom', had this to say on his blog 'Boing Boing':

"My friend, the wonderful sf writer Peter Watts was beaten without provocation and arrested by US border guards on Tuesday. I heard about it early Wednesday morning in London and called Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She worked her contacts to get in touch with civil rights lawyers in Michigan, and we mobilized with Caitlin Sweet (Peter's partner) and David Nickle (Peter's friend) and Peter was arraigned and bailed out later that day.

But now Peter faces a felony rap for "assaulting a federal officer" (Peter and the witness in the car say he didn't do a thing, and I believe them). Defending this charge will cost a fortune, and an inadequate defense could cost Peter his home, his livelihood and his liberty.

Peter's friends are raising money for his legal defense. I just sent him CAD$1,000, because this is absolutely my biggest nightmare: imprisoned in a foreign country for a trumped-up offense against untouchable border cops. I would want my friends to help me out if it ever happened to me."

Dr. Peter Watts is taking donations to help with his legal expenses through the 'Kibble' fund. This was initially a charitable organization he set up to help the homeless cats on the streets of Toronto.

This border crossing event, called 'Squidgate', made the front page of the Toronto Star as well as the National Post.

Of course, it has also rocked the entire Science Fiction community. After all...a FAMOUS science fiction writer is assaulted by border cops. Dr. Watts is well known to thousands of fans in Canada and the U.S. as a gentle academic, not a hot-head terrorist.

((If you check the comments on Cory Doctorow's blog, you will note that an American journalist has been subjected to exclusion by Canadian border guards as well. She was asked if she would say anything negative about the Vancouver Olympics, and then denied entry. So it's not just the U.S. border guards either. ))

For those of you potential apologists for the authoritarians, consider this.

The attitude of the Department of Homeland Security is exactly the same sort of abuse of power that the American revolution was fought over. The American colonists were once loyal British citizens, who felt as though they were being held hostage by their own (British) government. At the time of the American revolution, there were also colonists who were apologists for the British crown. "Just do as you are told. Don't be stupid. You can't go up against the British army, they are too big and powerful."

The salary of these border guards is paid for with your tax dollars, yet one must always defer to them as a slave would to their Master. It is now easier to enter into a communist country, than it is to get entry into the United States. This includes allies such as Canada and Britain. An entry process rated as the =world's worst= is also having a serious, long-term and detrimental effect on the U.S. economy.

Looking for ways to stimulate the economy? Consider dumping the Bush-era Department of Homeland security first. They have become a national embarrassment as well as a liability.


add a comment
Thu, February 18, 2010 - 7:19 PM
Mon, February 22, 2010 - 5:09 PM
Fri, March 5, 2010 - 4:31 AM
bloody hell
and was it at the US border or at Burning Man that you were turned back with your own science-art exhibit, James?
Tue, April 2, 2013 - 1:38 AM
That's wrong
I think these kind of incidence has to be stop
Thu, September 19, 2013 - 1:15 AM
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