Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Border Patrol learns how to make friends and influence people

It's not a dystopia if it's actually happening to you.

At least, that's what Canadian science fiction writer and marine biologist Peter Watts may be thinking after suffering a taste of American post-9/11-style hospitality. In an incident at a border crossing on Tuesday, December 8, Watts was punched, kicked and pepper-sprayed before being arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers. He now faces charges that could land him behind bars for years and bar him from reentering the country.

While returning home to Toronto after helping a friend move, Watts was stopped at the border crossing for a random search -- a warrantless intrusion common at the border, where constitutional protections for individual rights are minimal. Watts apparently stepped out of his vehicle to inquire as to the reason for the inspection. After that, accounts vary, but it's clear that, as usual, Border Patrol officers took the questions as a thrown gauntlet. On his blog, Watts initially described the incident in the following terms:
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.

Stay tuned.
U.S. officials insist that the 51-year-old writer and scientist, traveling with a single companion who didn't take part in the altercation (but was handcuffed anyway), initiated a physical confrontation and choked an officer -- a felony punishable by two years in prison and a fine. U.S. officials agree that Watts was pepper-sprayed.

Border Patrol turned Watts over to Port Huron, Michigan, police. According to court records, he was then charged with assaulting, obstructing, and resisting a police officer, released on $5,000 bond, and ordered to appear in court on December 22.

In Canada, the incident is reinforcing America's growing reputation as a festering police state where even making eye contact with a government official can be taken as sufficient grounds for arrest and a beating.

Although nominated for the respected Hugo Award, Peter Watts has reportedly discovered that writing is one of the few professions that can make a career in the sciences look lucrative. To help him with legal expenses, a Toronto bookstore is accepting cash and checks made out to the author's name.

Bakka-Phoenix Books
697 Queen St. West
Toronto, Ontario
M6J 1E6


Blogger Dan Clore said...

Welcome to the Spock's Beard Universe, Peter.

December 16, 2009 10:39 PM  

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