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Sci-Fi Author Peter Watts Beaten, Charged During Border Crossing 1079

JoeGee writes "On December 8th, Canadian sci-fi author Peter Watts, author of the Rifters trilogy and Blindsight, was crossing the US/Canadian border at Port Huron, Michigan when he was involved in an altercation with US Border Patrol agents. According to Watts, he was beaten, left half-naked in a cold cell, and finally dumped on the Canadian side of the border with no coat. A legal consultant from the Electronic Frontier Foundation was successful in helping a civil rights lawyer in Michigan free Watts. Watts faces US charges of assaulting a federal officer. Based on the accounts, one can assume Watts did so by hitting the officer's hand with his face. If convicted, Watts faces two years in a US Federal prison."
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Sci-Fi Author Peter Watts Beaten, Charged During Border Crossing

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  • Wow, (Score:4, Funny)

    by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @08:50PM (#30409214) Homepage Journal
    They should give the border patrol the Nobel Peace Prize for keeping America safe.
    • Re:Wow, (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11, 2009 @08:53PM (#30409242)

      They should give the border patrol the Nobel Peace Prize for keeping America safe.

      This probably is a horrible abuse of power... but you never know with these things.

      To quote Babylon 5:

      "Truth is a three-edged sword. One side is your truth, the other side is their truth, and the third side is the truth."

      I'd like more information.

  • Charges... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mobby_6kl ( 668092 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @08:52PM (#30409230)

    So, did they just forget about the other mandatory bullshit charge, resisting arrest?

    • Re:Charges... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by schmidt349 ( 690948 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @08:59PM (#30409294)

      I love it (sarcastically) when I hear a guy's only crime was resisting arrest. On what basis was the arrest being made in the first place? Resisting arrest, of course!

      • by ddegirmenci ( 1644853 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:04PM (#30409342)
        That actually gave me the idea that I might, somehow, be able to cause a stack overflow in the police. I guess I'll be trying that the next time I'm arrested...
      • Re:Charges... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by lena_10326 ( 1100441 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:30PM (#30409574) Homepage
        Other forms of "resisting arrest":
        • Not falling down fast enough after being struck or tasered.
        • Being pushed by an officer into another officer.
        • Placing or tapping your index finger ever so gently on the officer's shoulder.
        • Cursing at the officer so that the officer's feelings are hurt.
        • Having an epileptic seizure or heart attack during arrest.
        • Not bending like a blade of grass when the officer attempts to wrap your limbs into a pretzel shape.
        • Not knowing the language or not understanding the officers commands.
        • Failing to produce a state issued ID card.
        • Uttering the phrase "I won't answer your questions; I want to speak to a lawyer".
        • Re:Charges... (Score:4, Informative)

          by adaviel ( 1189751 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @10:26PM (#30410068) Homepage
 [] This "protesters guide to civil disobedience" was discussed recently on CBC Radio. Interesting tidbits about assaulting a police officer. I suspect career criminals don't have this trouble - they figured out at 14 how to deal with law enforcement :-7
  • by brainboyz ( 114458 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:00PM (#30409304) Homepage

    What most people don't realize is ANY "unwanted" contact with any officer or agent of a government entity is assault. Tapping them on the shoulder when they're yelling at your friend would constitute assault on an officer. Something as innocent as brushing the agent's hand away would provoke that charge, which I suspect is the case here.

    Wake up people, our laws are broken.

  • by Garrett Fox ( 970174 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:00PM (#30409306) Homepage
    It sounds like the facts aren't all in yet, so let's not leap to conclusions. We're hearing the account of Cory Doctorow -- who in his novel "Little Brother" had an obvious axe to grind against Homeland Security and law enforcement, to the point of suggesting "9/11 was an inside job". (Says one of the leaflets dropped by the novel's heroic protesters.) We're also hearing second-hand from Watts and the other people in the car. We're not yet hearing the guards' account. Maybe Doctorow et. al. are completely right, but let's not assume so right off the bat, eh?

    The Doctorow account quotes Watts saying that he got out of his car when questioned (mistake #1), then refused the order to get back in (mistake #2). No, of course that doesn't justify a beating. It just suggests we don't have the whole story.
    • by IICV ( 652597 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:08PM (#30409374)

      The Doctorow account quotes Watts saying that he got out of his car when questioned (mistake #1), then refused the order to get back in (mistake #2). No, of course that doesn't justify a beating. It just suggests we don't have the whole story.

      Sorry, absolutely nothing justifies a beating. The only two options are either A. Arrest the man or B. Let him go. "Beat him" is not acceptable under any circumstances whatsoever.

      • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:21PM (#30409514) Journal

        Sorry, absolutely nothing justifies a beating. The only two options are either A. Arrest the man or B. Let him go. "Beat him" is not acceptable under any circumstances whatsoever.

        Not to mention that once the cops have pepper sprayed someone, the last thing on that person's mind will be "let's fight."

    • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:10PM (#30409392)

      who in his novel "Little Brother" had an obvious axe to grind against Homeland Security and law enforcement

      Him and millions of other people who realize that a posted sign saying "Don't hijack the plane" would be about as effective and far less annoying than homeland security.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:03PM (#30409324)

    We visited Canada this summer and our experience with the US border patrol when we were returning home leads me to entirely believe the story as told by Watts. I've honestly had better and more pleasant experiences with the East German border patrol in the mid-80s.

    • by HBI ( 604924 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:37PM (#30409622) Journal

      I agree. I found the US-Canada border in particular to be the home of the most unimpressive border guards I have seen, though to be honest, Homeland Security personnel in general are unimpressive. Rude, nasty, undereducated and morally/ethically small people abound in those uniforms. Not a fucking 'welcome home' to be heard from this bunch.

      I come from a family full of cops, I work daily with actual combatant US soldiers and have immense respect for them, but seeing these Homeland Security pricks from their various ill-run agencies acting as officers of the United States makes me want to vomit. The whole organization needs to be deconstructed and re-imagined in some kind of intelligent form.

      • by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @11:11PM (#30410366) Homepage
        My father has been on the Maine border for the past 20 years.

        From my memories as crossing 10 years ago, things have definitely changed- and there are many reasons why. One of the biggest is that since 2001, the number of border gaurds has increased by a factor of 4. There used to be high standards, with lengthy training. You had to learn spanish, and generally become reasonably educated in detecting lies, noticing suspicious people, etc. The handgun training weeded out a lot of people, and my father had to practice every 3 weeks, because if he didn't, he might not pass the handgun qualification test, which seemed to be at least 4 times a year. A lot of that went away when some politicians decided they needed to stack the border in the name of "Homeland Security". Immigration and Customs (2 separate groups 10 years ago) were rolled into Homeland Security after 2001. Instead of ambitious folk who didn't mind learning spanish, passing rigorous handgun tests, remaining current in their education, etc, you got the bottom of the barrel uneducated Joe. The kind who saw a cushy government job for little effort and took it.

        Joe is not a fun guy. Joe does the bare minimum and nothing extra, collects his paycheck, and sits in the booth following his script.
    • by lahvak ( 69490 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @10:08PM (#30409918) Homepage Journal

      That's exactly my impression. Crossing from US to Canada was fine, crossing back very strongly reminded me of crossing from Poland to East Germany in mid 80's.

      • by NitroWolf ( 72977 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @10:50PM (#30410198)

        That's exactly my impression. Crossing from US to Canada was fine, crossing back very strongly reminded me of crossing from Poland to East Germany in mid 80's.

        Hmm... couple summers ago I had the exact opposite experience. Going to Canada was a nightmare. The Candadian border patrol were complete assholes and/or a giant pack of morons. Coming back the US border patrol were nice, courteous and friendly. The Canadian side reminded me of a bunch of TSA idiots standing around wondering what to do about a suitcase. Lots of interaction with the Canadian side, not so much with the US side... just kind of cruised on through.

    • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @11:06PM (#30410316)
      Given that customs officers are trained to get a vibe off people (by asking questions about your stay etc- they don't give a rat's ass what you say, it's HOW you say it.) Given out righteous some slashdotters get, I can imagine them giving a customs agent a real bad vibe. Just look at any of the threads about laptop confiscations (I agree, those are very evil and I feel they should be illegal.) There's some serious hatred here for customs folks.

      I crossed the border several times to go to track driving schools. First border crossing, I was nervous. The Canadian officer was curt, and mostly concerned about the fact that I was unemployed at the time. Probably picked up on my being nervous. I just didn't want the hassle of being searched or giving the "wrong" answer.

      Second border crossing, the Canadian officer was friendly and while they are trained to engage you in banter to judge how shady you are (which clearly Mr. Watts failed, want to guess why?), he seemed genuinely amused that I was taking MY car to drive on a racetrack. Have fun, he said, and handed me my paperwork.

      Both times back, the US crossing was completely unmemorable. Drove up, handed over my license, answered some quick questions about when I came into Canada, what I'd done, and whether I had anything to declare. 2-3 minutes, tops- long enough to run my plates and license in the computer and see how fidgety I was. Nobody at any of the events I went to (all of them American) had anything bad to say, and some of them had been coming to the track for years.

      I lost my license right before a trip to Canada, and called around trying to figure out if a temporary replacement license was sufficient. I eventually got put through to one of the actual border officers, who was audibly in the middle of his lunch break, munching on his sandwich. For a cop on his lunchbreak being pestered by some dumb shmuck, he was not only helpful but...chipper. He wouldn't make any solid promises, but he did ask me when I was coming, my name, and a few other things, and said if he was on shift when I came back into the US, he'd help if he could and take the fact that I called ahead etc under consideration, but he said I definitely needed to make sure I'd be OK getting IN to Canada. So he gave me the number for his Canadian counterparts, and cheerfully wished me a good afternoon and best of luck trying to get a 'real' license or some other government ID out of my state government (didn't.)

      HOLY FUCKING SHIT. A very curt, annoyed, angry Canadian customs agent answered the phone, and read me the fucking riot act and demanded to know how I got the number for their office, why was I calling them, who was I, what the hell did I want. When I explained what I wanted (mainly to know if I'd be permitted into Canada with my temporary license, and was there anything I could do to smooth the wheels, like bringing extra documentation of some sort, anything to help), point-black refused to answer or discuss anything with me, and hung up after angrily saying "NEUO!" to several questions.

  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:13PM (#30409420) Homepage Journal

    I got a tweet about this earlier today.

    I can't wait to hear what really happened here. It's wouldn't be so outlandish if Watts' version of the story is entirely true, especially with the number of police beatings that get online where the exact same thing has happened (i.e. someone not resisting at all, getting beaten up, and then charged with resisting arrest).

    Over 10 years ago now, Indianapolis had the infamous "police street brawl" incident where a group of off duty drunk policemen went around picking fights with guys and harassing women in down town Indianapolis. Everyone that tried to protect women in that situation ended up in jail with a bunch of bruises on resisting arrest charges. I don't believe even one of the cases ever made it to court. Still the police union backed their boys to the very end. I believe they even called the mayor a commie at one point...

  • Boarder Security (Score:5, Insightful)

    by inhuman_4 ( 1294516 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:21PM (#30409502)

    As a Canadian I will never understand why the US is so eager about its boarder security with Canada.

    Take a look at a map of North America, we share a huge boarder. If some one wanted to get across undetected, they would go to Calgary, Edmonton, etc. Buy/Rent a off-road vehicle and just drive in across some open fields. It's not hard to figure out.

    Boarder security at major ports of entry just pisses everyone off and hurts trade. The most they are going to catch are some teenagers buying pot and Canadian beer. The only real threat at the CAN/US boarder is people bringing handguns into Canada (where they are illegal) and selling them to Toronto street gangs.

    Now they are giving a middle aged white guy a hard time? Please, this security theatre has gone too far.

    • Re:Boarder Security (Score:4, Interesting)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:41PM (#30409670) Journal
      You know, I would totally agree with you, but time and again bad guys [] have been caught trying to sneak through the security gates. Why they go that way instead of following your advice, I will never know. However, as long as they are going that way, we might as well try to catch them.
    • Re:Boarder Security (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <> on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:51PM (#30409766) Homepage

      The only real threat at the CAN/US boarder is people bringing handguns into Canada (where they are illegal) and selling them to Toronto street gangs.

      Hand guns aren't illegal in Canada. I have my restricted FAS and own a handgun. It just means that there are more hoops for me to jump through to own it up here. I goto the local range about 40mins from my hometown to go shooting. Toronto is a half liberal pissing hole that things that handguns are the doom and gloom of everyone. It was to the point where the Toronto Police Service was going to march on City Hall because of the gun ban until the mayor and city council saw common sense. Where do the police go for firearms practice in the city when they want to ban their indoor range?

      You know what the big problem is? Is that 5 years ago there was half the problem with travelling into the US as there is now. I really don't want to go. I live within 1.5hr give or take a few of 4 major border checkpoints. Why do I want to put myself through that hassle, when I can travel to other countries in the world that have easier travel and access. Well if you want to erect the fortress and piss off your northern neighbour, that's a good way of doing it.

      It's funny however, the biggest problem that Canada deals with from Americans is teenagers. Little bastards who come over here to drink, cause havoc, smash shit up, or cause criminal offences then run back across the border. Goto any border city and they'll tell you what kind of pissing match it is to even try to get US border guards to stop them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11, 2009 @09:55PM (#30409808) []

    "Jones said Watts was crossing into Michigan from Point Edward when he was selected at random for a secondary Customs inspection. Watts exited his vehicle "angrily" and border officers began checking the black sport utility vehicle he was driving, Jones said.

    Border officers ordered Watts back into the vehicle, and when he refused, officers attempted to handcuff him, Jones said. At that point, Watts began to resist and pull away from the officers "and became aggressive toward officers," Jones said.

    Jones said a border officer used pepper spray to subdue Watts. Jones said Watts "choked" an officer during the struggle. "

  • by kwandar ( 733439 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @10:06PM (#30409900)

    Overly officious US border agents, the "Guantanamo halo effect" (ie. there is no rule of law)and the general unfriendliness at the border have caused me to cease visiting the US. I can say that I am far from the only Canadian I know that now refuses to cross the border.

    I don't buy there, travel there, spend there, or .... even do business there.

    I'm hoping that with the Obama administration I (and others) will become a little more comfortable and eventually travel through/to the US, but I'm far from the only Canadian that feels this way. Pity .... the US in general are great neighbors and great people.

  • Not worth it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mauriceh ( 3721 ) <`maurice' `at' `'> on Friday December 11, 2009 @10:10PM (#30409932) Homepage

    I am a Canadian citizen living in Canada.
    I have been entering and leaving the USA for pretty much my whole life.
    I am 53.
    A few years ago I stopped going to the USA, except when absolutely necessary.

    One of the most dangerous places I can think of is a US border crossing.

  • by puppetman ( 131489 ) on Friday December 11, 2009 @10:33PM (#30410100) Homepage

    To visit the family cabin on the US side of the border, I can say that about 50 percent of the US Customs agents are assholes on a power trip, pure and simple. Some at our border crossing have had sexual harassment charges leveled against them.

    I've run into a few jerk-off Canadian Customs agents as well.

    I hate putting myself in the power of these individuals - it seems the sky is the limit with regards to outcomes.

  • by cmholm ( 69081 ) <<cmholm> <at> <>> on Friday December 11, 2009 @11:33PM (#30410532) Homepage Journal

    First up, I've witnessed and had described by retired police officers occasions when an officer elected to go medieval on a citizen who was being only mildly disagreeable, or didn't immediately understand what the officer wanted, so I can well imagine Mr. Watts was unreasonably roughed up, and hit with trumped up charges.

    That said, based on the information in TFA's links, as a practical, like-to-avoid-getting-my-ass-handed-to-me matter, I might question Mr. Watts' evident lack of "street smarts". I'm just a mid-aged, college-educated white boy who for the most part stayed out of trouble. But, even I have heard and read enough to know that:

    • In a police-controlled traffic stop or checkpoint, I should stay in my car until asked to exit.
    • I should not act to touch an officer.
    • I should not give an officer lip.
    • I shouldn't get into small talk with an officer. Answers to questions, if I say anything at all, should be short. Admit nothing, deny nothing.
    • I shouldn't give permission for an officer to search me or my car. If he does it anyway, save my complaints for later.
    • If assaulted/battered by an officer, I should passively act to shield my face, jewels, etc, but take the lumps.
    • I have few, if any, rights at an international border crossing (besides the intra-EU borders), and should be mentally prepared for BS.

    Unfortunately, Mr. Watts may not have had any previous experiences that would prep him for the possibility that getting out of the queue at a border crossing wasn't the best plan. I hope his only lasting consequences are a bruised body and ego.

  • by geekotourist ( 80163 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @12:28AM (#30410976) Journal

    Peter Watts has put up a new post on the event []. All emphasis mine:

    "I'm at the point now where I can't talk a whole lot about ongoing proceedings. I am seeing a few common misrepresentations making the rounds, though, that I'd like to set straight:

    1. Some are concluding that, when I was "dumped across the border in shirtsleeves", I had to walk across the Blue Water Bridge in a snowstorm without my coat. No. The bridge is on the US side of the border, which they had to drive me across to dump me on the other side of; and Canadian Customs was on that other side. This was no Starlight Cruise; I was not exposed to the weather unprotected for an inordinately long time. Still. It's winter. And they have my coat.
    2. Others have warned me to delete my previous post, lest the bad guys seize upon it and twist it to their own dark purposes. Having had erroneous quotes attributed to me in the past, I know this is good advice (which is why I won't be commenting in too much detail upon some of the arcane blow-by-blows of the case in question). But my lawyer vetted that post before I put it up; I stand behind it.
    3. Thanks to whoever posted the link to the Times-Herald story. I have three comments about the allegations therein. Firstly, the story claims that I was entering the US, not leaving it: this is empirically false. Secondly, I find it interesting that these guys characterise "pulling away" as "aggressive" behavior; I myself would regard it as a retreat. And thirdly, I did not "choke" anyone. I state this categorically. And having been told that cameras were in fact on site, I look forward to seeing the footage they provide.

    That's it for the technical items. I have only two more things to say. Firstly, I am absolutely flabbergasted by the online reaction to this story, and by the support (both moral and financial) that's inundated me over the past few hours. I don't have a hope in hell of answering even a fraction of the incoming traffic at this point, so for the moment let me just say I'm humbled and a little bit scared. I did not start this campaign; it actually started when I was still in jail, and had absolutely no idea what was going on. But to the catalytic folks who orchestrated it, know that I am looking into having my vasectomy reversed so that I can sire a firstborn son and sacrifice him to you.
    Secondly, I'm going to bed.

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