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Author Peter Watts Beaten & Arrested at US/Canada Border

Swarming across the Internets is news of Peter Watts’ recent horrifying experience of being beaten and arrested at the border between the U.S. and Canada.

From Peter’s own account of what happened:

If you buy into the Many Worlds Intepretation of quantum physics, there must be a parallel universe in which I crossed the US/Canada border without incident last Tuesday. In some other dimension, I was not waved over by a cluster of border guards who swarmed my car like army ants for no apparent reason; or perhaps they did, and I simply kept my eyes downcast and refrained from asking questions.

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.

But that is not this universe.

If you ask me, Peter is handling this amazingly well. He was invited to participate in next week’s Mind Meld interview and emailed me this morning. He had this to say:

Sorry for not getting back to you before now. On the way back from helping a friend move to Nebraska, I got swarmed by US border guards, punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, and thrown in jail. Now, with epic irony, I’ve been charged with assaulting a federal officer, which has me looking at two years in jail (worst-case scenario), and/or ruinous legal defense fees followed by bankruptcy (best-case). The charge is bogus, but I still have to answer it; and at the moment, I’m also trying to get my personal effects out of impound (which is tough when you’re not allowed back into the country where your things are being held).

Bottom line, I won’t be able to answer Mind Meld this time around. But I bet you’ve never run into anyone with a better excuse.

Good excuse indeed.

Boing Boing has information on how you can contribute to Peter’s legal defense fund.

[via Boing Boing]

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

19 Comments on Author Peter Watts Beaten & Arrested at US/Canada Border

  1. joshua corning // December 11, 2009 at 7:02 pm //

    Welcome to Obama’s America where citizens of our Nato ally and NAFTA parter are beaten at our boarders while our leaders fly to copenhagon to figure out how to tax us for breathing.

  2. Oh my gosh! I hope Peter’s okay.

    Almost exactly the same thing happened to my brother. I mean, he was  pepper sprayed, beaten, the whole thing, by police officers when he got into a legal dispute with a guy who called his cop-friend to intimidate my brother. When my brother got a lawyer the guy tried to get my brother plead out to resisting arrest but my brother refused and insisted it go in front of a jury. My brother got tons of pressure from the lawyer and the judge to plead out because the case involved a couple of cops who would automatically be charged with police brutality if the jury found my brother innocent. My brother stuck to his guns and a jury unanimously found him innocent. I hope there were witnesses who can testify for Peter. If there are, they could potentially drop the case. 

  3. Please don’t think I’m blaming this guy for what happened, but everyone knows that when you get pulled over you do not get out of your car. That is an automatic threat, because the officer has no idea whether or not you have a weapon. And when the threatened officer tells you to get back in your car you shut up and get back in your car. I wasn’t there, so I have no idea what actually happened, but this guy admittedly broke the golden rules of getting waived to the side at a border crossing.

  4. still trying to get rid of the last vestiges of bush/cheney.  it will probably take another quarter century before we’re finally done

  5. Mike From Cincinnati // December 11, 2009 at 11:56 pm //

    >>Welcome to Obama’s America where citizens of our Nato ally and NAFTA parter are beaten at our boarders while our leaders fly to copenhagon to figure out how to tax us for breathing.

    Obama’s America?  Are you seriously going there after reading this? Do you really believe that in the 11 months since Obama has taken office that there has been some kind of shift in border policy, that we then hired new border guards, then trained them in this new “to hell with your personal rights and freedoms” policy you allude to and that THEN this beating occured?  Do you truly believe that this has nothing to do with 8 years under BUSH?  Talk about walking thru life with blinders on.

    NOW, with that said, DONT get out of your car when pulled over, DONT demand answers, DO get back in car when ordered to.  The guards wildly over reacted but really, this is common sense stuff here.  What you should do is simply put your hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel and wait for them to approach (do not reach for wallet, do not reach into glove compartment, dont even unbuckle your seatbelt).  Any action that might make someone who is carrying a weapon nervous is an action worth avoiding. 

    Hope all works out and charges are dropped.

  6. Joshua Corning // December 12, 2009 at 12:07 am //

    Do you really believe that in the 11 months since Obama has taken office that there has been some kind of shift in border policy

    If he wanted a shift he would have done it.

    Do you truly believe that this has nothing to do with 8 years under BUSH?

    Bush is out of power and so is his party.

    I think you have confused me with someone who gives a crap about your right-wing/left-wing politics. The people in power are the ones responsible. PERIOD.

  7. The people in power are the ones responsible. PERIOD.

    I’m no fan of Bush or Obama, but I think you’re going a little far.  Call me crazy, but I’d say the guys who, you know, *punched him in the face* are responsible.  This doesn’t have to be about politics.  Being a jerk is a non-partisan activity.

    Anyway, enough of such silliness.  I wish the guy the best of luck and am sorry I am too broke to contribute to his cause, currently.  Here’s hoping that not only does he get out of the ridiculous charges against him, but that the goons who beat him up are removed from the position that allows them that authority.

  8. Makes me glad I ‘just’ had a gun pulled on me for the henious crime of trying to be a British Citizen and enter the states via a port on Lake Erie. (My crime was being unable to stand in direct sunlight when it was over 40c and moving towards shade after being given permision by one border gaurd, but not the one who told me to stand in the sun and wait for an hour, and it was under Bush Snr’s watch if that is relevant.)

    Whilst I agree with what Dino said, don’t aggrivate people with authority. It does seem that the reaction of these border gaurds is way out of line with Peter’s alleged actions.

  9. I’ll never forget what my father told me about police officers:  you treat them like any other man with a gun.

  10. Edward Milewski // December 12, 2009 at 2:49 pm //

    Been to the States a couple of time many years ago. No experiences like that. On a more recent trip ( several years ago) your border guards wanted to see into my empty trunk. Smiling I complied. No Problem. However, since 9-11 large parts of your country or people in power seem to have gotten paranoid. These kinds of stories dissuade me from ever wanting to go there again.

    Not that my country is all that much better or anywhere else really. We have a long way to go to achieve a peaceful world.

  11. Chris Meyer // December 12, 2009 at 9:02 pm //

    Wait…Canada? Really guys? Terrorists come on planes or from Mexico. Canada is too baked in their own pot smoke and hippie juice to do that.

    On a more serious note, helping a friend move to Nebraska is a noble cause, as Nebraska is all that is American! 🙂 But I have absolutely no bias towards that wonderful State.

  12. Mike From Cincinnati // December 12, 2009 at 9:45 pm //

    >>Bush is out of power and so is his party.

    Thank goodness!  But the effects of his time as our leader will linger for many years to come.  Its naive to think otherwise, regardless of your political beliefs.

    But yes, I agree, lets put the blame where it should be, on the guards who overreacted to having their authority questioned, not on the president.

    >>I’ll never forget what my father told me about police officers:  you treat them like any other man with a gun.

    Great advice!

  13. This story has now received some attention in The Toronto Star, one of Canada’s (at least, Ontario’s) major newspapers:

    <a href=”–u-s-border-guards-arrest-author-peter-watts?bn=1″>U.S. border guards arrest author Peter Watts</a>


  14. The story is also in The Globe & Mail, Canada’s national newspaper:

    Canadian sci-fi writer Peter Watts arrested during border inspection

    Both this article and the one in The Toronto Star are heavily weighted to comments from representatives of the US border/customs guards, painting Watts as “aggressive” and “noncompliant,” claiming he “choked” one of the officers. The Star article quotes from Watts’s blog post(s), while the G&M only paraphrases; otherwise, neither article has comments directly from Watts or his representative(s). Unfortunately, this makes the situation feel like the US authorities are “controlling the narrative” (so to speak) at the moment, at least in the “official” public media … the blogosphere being a different public media, of course.

    Hmm ….


  15. This was also mentioned in the Detroit News. 

  16. It is becoming fairly common in the U.S. for anyone who is assaulted by the cops to be charged with assaulting the cops. You don’t have to cross any border for it to happen. All you have to be is the wrong skin-shade, speak with any sort of “un-American” accent, or ask the reasonable question “What’s going on?” Above all don’t project a “bad attitude.” Too many cops here are on hair-trigger alert, and it isn’t their job to keep the peace anymore–it’s their job to keep you utterly docile. Approach them with anything less than sheep-like solicitude, and you’re asking for it. Or maybe these guys just had some bad donuts earlier in their shift.

    Is it okay to start calling them pigs again?

  17. Few years ago I went through Niagara Falls by train. I went to USA with an employment letter and a Canadian passport. The US Home Land Security border guards turned me back to Canada on the spot. Before I could return to Canada, they asked me to fill up a form that required 4 generations (my children, myself and my wife, my parents, and my grand parents) of personal details. The US wanted the names, dates of birth, addresses of home and work, medical conditions, etc. It took me 2 hours to fill half of the information they wanted, because the other half information I simply did not know. Of course, mug shot, and finger printing were part of the treatment. The guards told me all those information would be entered into US Home Land Security database, so I better filled the form carefully. The guards took my cell phone right away when I tried to contact my employment agency for help. I learnt real quickly not to offend them in any way, otherwise I was sure I would be ended up like Peter in US jail that day or they would point their guns at me.


    The irony was that there was a big poster in the US border guardhouse. It reminded the guards “you are the face of USA, smile and be helpful to the visitors entering USA.”


    Anybody doubts Peter’s misfortune, maybe he should get a taste of the US Home Land Security border guard’s hospitality, get a real feel about being violated, then he probably won’t side with US border guards so fast.

  18. Joesketeer // December 16, 2009 at 6:36 pm //

    This is such a horrible thing to happen but as an American, I can’t say I’m surprised.  Our police brutality rates have skyrocketed, and this case, as horrible as it is, will hopefully shed light on the disgusting tactics of police stations across the country, who slap the charge of assault against an officer to save their own asses on a fairly regular basis.  Please let Peter Watts not go to jail, this would be a horrifying enough experience and I can’t imagine such an individual like himself having to spend his days with prisoners…I say this as an America…Screw you, American border patrol!

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