SciFi Sites Rally Behind Canadian Writer in ‘Parallel Universe’ Border Scuffle

December 12, 2009

(ChattahBox)—There is an international cause célèbre brewing in the online science fiction community, over an incident between a peace-loving Canadian and US border officials (“jack booted thugs” says a commenter) stationed at the Port Huron, Michigan border crossing. On Tuesday, Dec. 8 acclaimed science fiction writer, Canadian Peter Watts of Toronto, was involved in a border scuffle when attempting to return home from the US. Watts was arrested and jailed overnight for resisting and assaulting a federal officer. He was released on Wednesday on $5,000 bond, after being arraigned on a felony charge.

Watts posted a much more colorful story on his blog, casting the whole incident in the “Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics” involving the “parallel universe” of the US/ Canada border. Watts claims all he did was exit his vehicle to ask what was happening and from that point, the Hugo Award-nominated novelist and author of Blindsight, entered a parallel universe from his nightmares.

Science fiction writer Cory Doctorow, a friend of Watts and founder of the blog BoingBoing, posted the story of Watts’ border incident on his blog on Friday, asking for donations to help with Watts’ legal costs. Doctorow’s post quickly made the rounds of scifi blogs and went viral:

“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.” […]

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.”

Watts’ description of the incident posted on his blog, says he was punched in the face, pepper sprayed, thrown in a cold jail cell and then unceremoniously dumped across the border the next day without his coat, in a raging Canadian snowstorm:

“If you buy into the Many Worlds Interpretation 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.”

The account of Watts’ border scuffle in Michigan’s Times Herald, is based on the police report read to reporters by Port Huron police Capt. Jim Jones:

“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. Border officers ordered Watts back into the vehicle, and when he refused, officers attempted to handcuff him. At that point, Watts began to resist and pull away from the officers and became aggressive toward officers. A border officer used pepper spray to subdue Watts. Watts “choked” an officer during the struggle.”

Watts responded to the report in the Times Herald on his blog, pointing out that the paper’s account of Watts attempting to enter the US was false. He was actually attempting to return home from Michigan to Canada.

Watts also denies becoming aggressive and choking a police officer:

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.”

There is a lively discussion on Watts’ case on the site, and on Watts’ blog with some commenters believing Watts may have mouthed off to the border agents and others blaming the whole incident on the crazy American police.

So, there you have it. The headline of this story could read: “Science Fiction Writer Sees Aliens and Goes Berserk at Border,” or “US Border Officers go Berserk, Beat up Canadian SF Writer as Suspected Alien Terrorist.”

Whatever the case, the science fiction writing community is behind Watts and they have been donating funds to his paypal account. Watts is overwhelmed and grateful for all of the support.

He is so grateful in fact, that he even jokingly offered to have his “vasectomy reversed so that I can sire a firstborn son and sacrifice him to you.”

St. Clair County District Court records show Watts is due back in court Dec. 22 for a preliminary hearing on charges of assaulting, obstructing and resisting a police officer. The charge is punishable by up to two years in jail and/or a $2,000 fine.


One Response to “SciFi Sites Rally Behind Canadian Writer in ‘Parallel Universe’ Border Scuffle”

  1. Old Man Dotes on December 13th, 2009 12:19 pm

    If I were Watts, I would send a lawyer to represent me, but would not set foot in the USA again until all charges are dropped (and charges of excessive use of force brought against the jack-booted thugs who instigated this entire incident).

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