Dr Peter Watts, Canadian science fiction writer, beaten and arrested at US border

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.

Update: Here's more from Peter, in his 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."

Update: David Nickle sez, "This is just to let you know that we've got a snail-mail address for people to send cheques - Bakka Phoenix Science Fiction Bookstore has agreed to collect and forward them. The details are here on my blog."

Sf writer David Nickle writes,

Hugo-award-nominated science fiction author Dr. Peter Watts is in serious legal trouble after he was beaten, pepper-sprayed and imprisoned by American border guards at a Canada U.S. border crossing December 8. This is a call to friends, fans and colleagues to help.

Peter, a Canadian citizen, was on his way back to Canada after helping a friend move house to Nebraska over the weekend. He was stopped at the border crossing at Port Huron, Michigan by U.S. border police for a search of his rental vehicle. When Peter got out of the car and questioned the nature of the search, the gang of border guards subjected him to a beating, restrained him and pepper sprayed him. At the end of it, local police laid a felony charge of assault against a federal officer against Peter. On Wednesday, he posted bond and walked was taken across the border to Canada in shirtsleeves (he was released by Port Huron officials with his car and possessions locked in impound, into a winter storm that evening). He's home safe. For now. But he has to go back to Michigan to face the charge brought against him.

The charge is spurious. But it's also very serious. It could mean two years in prison in the United States, and a ban on travel in that country for the rest of Peter's life. Peter is mounting a vigorous defense, but it's going to be expensive - he's effectively going up against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and he needs the best legal help that he can get.

He's got that help, courtesy of one of the top criminal lawyers in the State of Michigan. We, Peter's friends and colleagues here in Canada, want to make sure he gets the help he needs financially to come out of this nightmare whole.

The need for that help is real. While Peter is a critically successful science fiction writer, he is by no means a best-selling author. Without help, the weight of his legal fees could literally put him on the street by spring.

We can't let that happen. So there's going to be fundraising.

We're going to think of something suitable in the New Year - but immediately, anyone who wants to help can do so easily. Peter's website, rifters.com, has a link to a PayPal account, whimsically named the Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund. He set it up years ago for fans of the Hugo-nominated novel Blindsight and his Rifters books, to cover veterinary bills for the cats he habitually rescues from the mean streets of Toronto. Peter has made it clear that he doesn't want to use the veterinary money to cover his lawsuit. But until we can figure out a more graceful conduit for the legal fund, that's the best place to send donations for now. Just let Peter know that the donation's for his legal defense, and that's where it will go.

Here's the link to the backlist page on Peter's website, rifters.com, or you can just send a PayPal donation to donate@rifters.com.

The link to the Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund is in the middle of the page. The page also links to Creative Commons editions of all his published work, which he's made available free. Peter would approve, we think, if you downloaded one or two or all of them. Whether you make a donation to the legal fund or not.

Update: David Nickle adds, "there's a very small correction I need to make to the account that's gone, erm, viral. I had thought that Peter had made his way back on foot; in fact, police released him in shirtsleeves at the Canadian side of the border. It was a winter storm, he was in shirtsleeves, but he didn't have to cross the bridge on foot. I'd misunderstood Peter's account on that point. "


  1. Boy, the sure know how to add insult to injury. I love the way cops beat somebody up, then charge THEM with assaulting an officer.

    1. They pretty much have to. If you stomp a guy for little reason and violate his rights, and let him go, its an admission they whupped him but they had nothing on him to justify said whupping, and then there are lawsuits and newspapers and such, and these guys might endanger their careers. But if they double down instead and stick said guy with some ‘officer of the law vs you and your shmoe friends’ charges, you are in a much worse position and will be too busy trying to stay out of jail to go after them, and it creates a reason that justifies their violence.

  2. And now the inevitable “we don’t know the whole story so we shouldn’t pass judgments but he probably did something to provoke them” comments can commence.

    This is truly awful and terrifying. I am always so reluctant to travel to the U.S. and this does nothing to make me want to go.

    1. Yep, got the first one in at #5. Gotta love the “it’s my observation”, making me think he’s a border cop?

      1. A Theresa. The comments are totally out of context, because for some reason even though I am hitting the “reply” button for specific posts, my comments are showing up just next in line, out of place. I was responding to his point about fascism and starting out that post with “listen, asshole…” I was just trying to point out that fascists don’t like that kind of greeting and all of us need to learn how to drop that anger because (when I started the post, “you’re right, Xopher” I meant that yeah, the fascist police state is this…fricking…close. So that’s the 212st century survival tactic. Shows of anger will only encourage a beating, you know, assault by smashing your face into a baton. And I was not implying Peter’s story is in question. Read my posts again knowing that I believe his story and not questioning that one bit. Fix the reply function, Boing Boing, por favor? Reply Fail.

  3. What the hell Port Huron?! Do you have something against Canadians? This makes me ashamed to be a Michigander. Yes I can attest border cops are assholes, even in my limited experience with them.

    1. Cymk and other Michiganders:

      Please contact your representatives if you want this harmful and embarrassing behavior to stop:

      Sen. Carl Levin:


      Sen. Debbie Stabenow:


      Additionally, you can find your Representative by going here:


      And entering your zip code. If you don’t know your four-digit zip code extension, you can find that here:


  4. This is actually a bit terrifying. Now people are having problems LEAVING the country? Since when does Port Huron = East Berlin?

    I don’t even travel to Canada anymore and this scares me. Beating up a Canadian? Crap, so much of our friendly neighbors to the North. I hope that the Canadian Government raises a stink about this. They won’t…but I can hope.

    1. I have visited East Berlin (when it still was East Berlin). Nobody treated me that way going in or out.

  5. …was beaten without provocation and arrested by US border guards on Tuesday.

    t’s my bsrvtn tht mst f ths css bgn wth prsn wh bcms bllgrnt whn skd t d smthng h dsn’t wnt t d (gt t f th cr, stp wy frm th cr, tc.) Ths ffcrs my vry wll hv vrstppd thr bnds, bt dbt vry srsly tht Wtts s cmpltly nncnt.

    sspct th crx f th mttr ls (n pn ntndd) n ths sntnc: “Whn Ptr gt t f th cr nd qstnd th ntr f th srch, th gng f brdr grds sbjctd hm t btng…”

    S h nncntly sd, “Why r y srchng my cr?” Thn thy cmmncd t btng hm. Sr.

    Moderator note: Read this.

    1. Seriously? Why is the border patrol even stopping someone on the way out of a country? And as far as your strawman “implausible” scenario is concerned, “why are you searching my car” is often exactly enough provocation for a beating from a cop.

      1. A simple reason to stop and do at least a cursory check on the way out is to prevent abductions of minors who are children of divorced parents. There was an article on boing boing recently about that situation in Japan, where one parent is American, the other Japanese. It’s a legitimate and common concern at national borders to look out for the rights of those too young to understand or defend their own rights, amid all the other stuff that bothers us.

    2. hopefully someone caught it on their phone and uploads it to youtube, or there were cctv cameras there that weren’t somehow magically pointing the wrong way.

      1. There are an unbelievable number of cctv cameras at that crossing. Whether the footage would ever make it to court is the question.`\

      1. y, but unprovoked attacks against 40 something white middle class canadians. not so sure. privilege has some advantages.

    3. Scratch? I get that to you this is a random person to whom a random thing happened, and that things we read about on the internet frequently feel like they’re fictional and unimportant.

      But this is my friend, who just got hurt, and I don’t yet know how badly.

      Please consider that.

      1. Chrybd…

        shld dd tht dbt vry srsly tht yr frnd dsrvd t gt btn. Hpflly y wll fnd t tht ths ws n nplsnt scffl rthr thn th “btng” tht s clmd hr.

        Moderator note: Read this.

    4. I know Peter. He’s the guy least likely to start a fight.

      You, on the other hand, are an anonymous asshole, and are clearly trying to start a fight (as per comment #2 in this thread).

      You disgust me. Go back into your hole, troll.

    5. Watts is a dour guy, and I’m sure they didn’t like his insufficiently-respectful tone. But you know what? That’s not supposed to matter. Talking back to cops should not be reason enough for a beat-down.

      Talking back to cops was a not-uncommon exercise of free speech for US citizens as recently as late TwenCen. You don’t have to respect the police. Sorry. You just don’t. That’s not the law. All you have to do is obey their (lawful) orders.

      There are far too many of these reports lately, and trying to blame the victims masks the real problem. (ANS: Power corrupts, baby.)

    6. “It’s my observation that most of these cases begin with a person who becomes belligerent when asked to do something he doesn’t want to do *** I doubt very seriously that Watts is completely innocent.”

      Under the laws of the United States of America, a person can be belligerent and “completely innocent”.

      Making a cop mad is not a crime.

    7. Having been beaten by cops for asking questions, I’ll answer you. Yes, police officers do overstep their bounds and work out personal frustrations and petty political power on people who they perceive as helpless and unable to fight back, either physically or legally.

      You might want to rewatch the Rodney King beating video a dozen or so times, then think about the fact that yes, that could be you. Even straight white men are being targeted now. Maybe with straight white men being victimized, someone might give a shit this time.

    8. “most of these cases begin with a person who becomes belligerent when asked to do something he doesn’t want to do” such as respecting the Constitutional Rights of a civilian.

  6. Just made a small donation. What a shame, but sadly it doesn’t surprise me. I can definitely relate. I travel between the US/Canada at least once a month for work. On the Canadian side, the border guards are unfailingly polite. Even when I was selected to be randomly searched, they were very professional and friendly. The US border guards are always petty, mean and scary.

    Best of luck Peter, I’m sure justice will prevail in the end.

  7. Once a year I drive back to Michigan and I almost always cross the border at Port Huron/Sarnia. In my admittedly limited experience, the guards on both sides of the crossing have always been polite and professional. I think I’ve been stopped and had my vehicle thoroughly searched half a dozen times on the Sarnia side while entering Canada. On the Port Huron side I think I’ve had one or two cursory inspections while entering the States.

    I would be curious to hear more details. The worst behavior I’ve experienced was crossing into Canada at Niagra Falls and having the guard threaten to “bounce my ass” back across the border because my passport was in the trunk rather than in my hand. This was a few years before passports were required.

    1. I’m surprised. I’ve had the opposite experience. I grew up in Michigan and went to college in New Hampshire, and I’ve crossed at both places regularly over a four year span.

      Moms moved north of St. Clair County, but i still drove all the way down to Windsor to cross just to avoid dealing with the Port Huron people. They’re absolutely awful.

  8. Assault charges are standard operating procedure whenever someone is beaten by the police. It covers them for the beating. Their best defense is a good offense.

  9. Interesting. I was having a conversation two days ago with someone about that very same border crossing.

    The result is that he and his wife have decided they will never leave the US again for fear of not being able to return across the border.

    He is retired now, but used to travel internationally extensively for his employment. He says he has a bitter taste in his mouth over the treatment they received.

  10. This is nuts.

    No, we don’t know all the details. Yes, 10’s of 1000’s of people cross the Canada/US border every day without incident, but it’s incidents like these that show us what can happen and no matter who is at fault, defending oneself can financially and professionally ruin a normal citizen.

    “Comply, or we’ll fuck you up.” Nice homeland security measures.

  11. Yes Scratch – USian border patrol agents are the cream of the crop amongst TSA employees.

    They would *never* beat a foreign national from an ostensibly friendly nation at at presumably friendly border who dared to challenge them regarding their small penises, um, unlimited authority.

  12. I drove that border crossing less than a year ago and had a thoroughly unpleasant experience in both directions. No beatings, but a surly hour at the border station while they inspected my US visa and consulted the manuals.

    1. I’m sorry you had such a poor experience at the Port Huron crossing. I’ve lived there all my life and have never had poor treatment, save for some momentary confusion about a decorate light switch plate from a craft fair (you bought a decorative switchblade??).

      Usually the whole process is so quick and painless, I recommend that people cross at Port Huron/Sarnia instead of the more congested Detroit/Windsor.

    2. Same here, Cory. Port Huron has some pretty unpleasant people from both countries at this crossing. Unexpectedly, the US officials were a lot friendlier than were the Canadians.

  13. From this interview http://www.karenbennett.ca/Watts.html , he seems like a pretty self-deprecating guy, with more than a little natural sarcasm. I wouldn’t be surprised if he made some smart remark that wasn’t taken to kindly by the border patrol and things escalated from there.

    They do teach in law enforcement school that anytime you have to use force, you’ve already failed in conflict resolution, so it’s really hard to not find fault with the border patrol here, unless the guy came out of his car, fists swinging.

  14. Myself, and many Canadians I know don’t cross anymore… not a chance, used to cross several times a year (I lived in Seattle for a while) but incidents like this are very common (just google it)

    So why cross and give up my rights ?

  15. Personal experience over the years with border crossings has me try and find the station with the older guy / gal behind the counter / desk.

    Usually the young ones still have to proof themselves and are overzealous to impress their superiors, the older ones are much more mellow and less likely to get all paranoid / arrogant.

    “Funny” though how it seems the border relationships have changed over the past ten years between Canada and the US and not for the better.

  16. Just completely fucked up. Makes me not want to visit Canada. Is that the point?

    Seriously though, what the FUCK. Completely wrong.

  17. I’m confused if he was going back to Canada from the US why he would have to deal with the US Border Patrol in the first place. You only deal with Canadian Border Patrol when you are entering Canada from US right?

    Either way, its a very sad state of affairs on either side of the line. I have crossed at Sarnia crossing a few times and it was a brutal, bite-my-tongue and grin, affair each time. The biggest problem I had were with the Canadian side, but I am a US citizen so sort of makes sense. I feel for this guy, they really do try to provoke you into making the wrong move.

    1. Exactly what I was thinking. When you go from Canada to US, you pass through US customs. When you go from US to Canada, you pass through CANADIAN customs.

      Either someone screwed up when reporting this, or something VERY strange has happened at the borders….

  18. What else can we as a mob do? Write emails to the department of homeland security?

    I travel the world and the only border crossings I get worried at are US borders. It is also the only border I have been detained at, the only border I have had all my luggage searched, the only border where I have been treated rudely, the only border where I am treated as a terrorist first and as a visitor second. Thank god I’m white and not black or arab looking! Who knows how much worse I would have been treated?

    My travels have included Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Ecuador, Peru, Germany… and about 60 other countries and nowhere have I been treated worse than at the US border.

    My best friend had his whole car disassembled and left inoperable by overzealous US border guards. Probably because he is Italian and his girlfriend is black and he was driving a 10 year old BMW.

    @freshsaconci – it only took 5 comments for scratch to say, “most of these cases begin with a person who becomes belligerent when asked to do something he doesn’t want to do” LOL

    Watts will be getting a donation from me. Good luck in your fight against the Evil Empire, man!

  19. …Peter Watts was beaten without provocation and arrested by US border guards on Tuesday…

    Cory, I love your work, but no credible news source (like the ones we all like to make such light of) would print such a statement without some sort of confirmation.

  20. Last I went to Canada, the Canadians gave me far more trouble than the Americans. I think a common rule is, whichever side you DON’T belong to (I’m American) will be the one that gives you more grief. Everyone hates foreigners, after all, not just the USA.

  21. First, has this been picked up in the Canadian media? If not, folks up there should be making a huge ruckus.

    Second, who else can we contact to get serious public attention?

    1. I have my doubts the Canadian media will particularly care about this story. This is the kind of thing that makes me feel helpless.

  22. ‘ll bt my shnst pr f jckbts tht ths s wht hppnd:

    Th grds dcdd t srch hs cr.

    Thy skd hm t stp t f th cr, nd h gt t.

    Thy skd hm t d smthng ls, lk stp wy frm th cr r pn th trnk, nd h rfsd.

    grd trd t physclly mv hm nd h shvd bck.

    t tht pnt, th ss s n lngr cr srch bt prsn wh s shvng grd. Th grd trs t rstrn hm nd thr grds jn n. H strggls t prtct hmslf nd thy strggl mr t rstrn hm. vntlly th pppr spry cms t bcs h cntns t strggl gnst mltpl grds.

    dtst bs f pwr nd frc, bt hnstly cn’t thnk f cs whr lw nfrcmnt prsn shld NT try t physclly cntrl prsn wh hs shvd hm r hr. nfrtntly, th shv s ftn th rslt f thr bd plcng r bd ctzn-ng. Tht’s why my rl f thmb s, d s th nfrm sys nd tk p ny grps ltr.

    Tht sd, hv nthng gnst ths gntlmn nd hv n d wht ctlly hppnd n ths cs.

    Moderator note: Read this.

    1. Because, you know, asking a question in anything more than a completely subservient tone makes you fair game for getting the crap knocked out of you. We must obey; that is all.

    2. “A guard tried to physically move him and he shoved back.”

      It takes a lot less than that for an overzealous border guard to miss-read the situation and use too much force. Just asking too many questions can get you in trouble, look at the damn TSA, we are giving these gate keepers too much power over our lives. Just asking “what’s the purpose of this search” more than once can cue the border guards that you have something to hide, because you ask questions. That kind of thinking is a fallacy and will be our downfall as a nation.

    3. Oh, so that’s why you made up a story that makes it all just an innocent misunderstanding? Why don’t you have a big cup of STFU until and unless you do know something?

      You’re quite willing to accuse “this gentleman” of lying about what happened even though you have nothing against him. Do you make a habit of accusing strangers of lying about their reports of things that have happened to them, or do you reserve that for when it gives you an opportunity to defend this kind of thuggery?

      I agree with Charlie. Back under your bridge. I’m sure you have jackboots that need polishing, even if you’ve already gambled away your shiniest pair.

      1. H Xphr…

        My hypthtcl ws bsd n th typ f fcts tht typclly cm t f cs lk ths. “Btn wtht prvctn” s vry bg clm t mk, nd frnkly t’s jst nt blvbl. ‘m nt tlkng bt hvng yr cr srchd wtht n bvs rsn, nd ‘m nt tlkng bt cp bng rd fr n rsn, ‘m tlkng bt bng BTN fr n rsn. Tht’s th clm hr.

        Moderator note: Read this.

  23. Perhaps people who’ve had bad experiences at that particular border crossing should document their own experiences and make them available to Peter’s defense team? Anything that showed a pattern of aggressive or unreasonable behavior by guards at that crossing might help the case.

  24. And what is really terrible is that I am quite sure that there are many other people who are similarly treated, but are not well known and well educated — who lack the connections to get a good legal defense or for anyone save their personal friends to raise money for them…

    I’m a dual national and have crossed the border more times than I can count in the past fifteen years. Not all the American border guards are “bad” but way way way more of them seem to get off flaunting their power than is true on the Canadian side. I remember one guy who made my boyfriend remove his shirt (and drive topless) because it had a US postal patch on it, and the officer claimed that it was a felony to impersonate a postal carrier. And that was before 9/11.

  25. Perhaps one of the border guards thought he was going to write about the Olympics à la Amy Goodman? We obviously can’t have that!

    I’ll be donating money to his defense as well.

  26. Well, he is very tall. He probably loomed at them, and they panicked. Are these the people we want guarding the borders?

  27. Bleah. I spend every minute in the US feeling afraid, and this is jut more fuel for the fear.

    Donation dropped in and posting this where I can think of to promote awareness. Cory – any chance you might poke the folks at Bakka and suggest a fundraising event and/or donations box in-store?

  28. I’d be pretty shocked if this turned out to be entirely true. I’ve crossed the border there and in Detroit/Windsor an awful lot and never had anything even remotely threatening happen. I’ve had some mildly abrasive border guards, but never anyone that was less that professional.

    Admittedly I’d never open my mouth unnecessarily, because while you’re there you’ve basically given up your rights. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, they do have the power to rip your car to shreds and look inside your colon, so yeah… it’s easiest to be cowed by authority in that situation.

    Hopefully we’ll find out what happened. I can’t imagine this wasn’t caught on video.

    1. If you’d never open your mouth unnecessarily in these situations, then you’ve already given up your rights. Sure, you should use common sense, but you shouldn’t also have to worry that some random thing you say might offend the sensitive border patrol or customs officer.

      And for the record, my grandfather worked for the US Customs Service at the Peace Bridge (Buffalo) for a good chunk of his life. This sort of shit would never have flown on his watch. Things have gotten pretty fucked up lately.

    2. Peter said:

      “Admittedly I’d never open my mouth unnecessarily, because while you’re there you’ve basically given up your rights. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, they do have the power to rip your car to shreds and look inside your colon, so yeah… it’s easiest to be cowed by authority in that situation.”

      My reply to the part of your quote I emphasised in bold:

      If you’ve done nothing wrong, exercising that power is nothing more than an abuse of power and intimidation of an innocent person. That’s wrong and it’s sad when people like yourself and others who cross borders feel they have no rights while doing so.

  29. I sent 20 USD to the legal defense fund. Which is very unusual for me, since I’m a student without a paycheck.

    The important point? Even if Watts wins his trial easily, this will do absolutely nothing to stop this kind of thing from happening again and again, possibly to Watts if he ever travels to the USA. This is doomed rearguard action, people.

    Of course it’s easy for *me* to decide never to visit the US. Even easier than for Canadians :-) My dream of moving to Canada one day is losing attractiveness though. With neighbours like these…

  30. At this same border stop my friends and I were taken aside and threatened with strip searches, vagrancy (not enough cash, but lots of credit cards), and with dogs. The border officials then proceeded to tear up the car. I am sure if they found absolutely anything at all we’d of been in a world of trouble.

    The only justification they gave was that we had no luggage, skateboards, and cigarettes in the ashtray. Since then I have avoided the Bluewater Bridge at all costs.

    Note that we said at the border we were crossing to go to a skatepark and to dinner.

  31. Since we seem to be having some of my favourite sf writers come in here in support of Watts, could we maybe get a few of the more noirish writers as well? Maybe Richard Morgan for some proper apocalyptic asskickery.

    And FWIW, I have been to the States once in the past dozen years (despite living a few miles from the border). Nothing that happened in the insanely paranoid absurdist Bush/HOmeland Security/Gitmo years – or since – makes me want to return.

    As a foreigner it is already perfectly OK with all sides to wiretap my phones – the only scandal is when the chosen people have their rights violated. Why would I volunteer to be singled out for abuse?

  32. If the only charge against him was assaulting an officer, yes, you can assume that the officers were at fault. They have more power and if they cannot otherwise keep things nonviolently under control, they cannot do the job. Assaulting the officer is the default charge levied when they have nothing else to use against anyone that dare confront their authority.

    There is no doubt in my mind that people *do* get uppity, sarcastic, belligerent and mean with security personnel. Professionals should, in turn, be patient, exercise restraint, de-escalate the trouble and otherwise use nonviolent techniques. Unfortunately, jerks with a badge have something to prove (watching too many damn cop shows) and nonviolent techniques at solving conflict are not taught to MOST, let alone those who carry weapons that they feel they can fall back on.

    Whether a smart ass comment triggered the trouble or even a loud angry yell, personnel should restrict their behavior to maintaining not just security but the image that our borders are in control by people who are in control. Macing tourists? Well that’s just sh*t.

  33. We recently drove to Michigan for the weekend, from Toronto, we drove to Grand River for the night, skimmed the horror that is Detroit and went home again through Sarnia. We got pulled over and searched. When we asked why they just asked us, again (and again, and again) “Why’d you go to Grand River?”. I guess our answer of “because we’d never been there” or “it’s closer than Chicago” weren’t good enough. I guess we got lucky.

  34. I want to hear the story from the other side, as well as someone’s shakey cell phone video so we can get a sense of where the truth is being stretched. All arguments have two sides, and the truth is usually somewhere between the them.

    I’m not saying a “beating” was justified, but the boing boing posting is the only mention of the incident that google can find, and it’s hardly written from an impartial perspective.

    1. Apparently the coconut wireless for the writer’s community is disseminating this pretty fast. I first saw this report on John Scalzi’s blog, also quoting David Nickle’s writeup.

  35. I’ve had issues with both US and Canadian BP while crossing at the bridge in Detroit/Windsor. In fact I was denied entrance into Canada because I didn’t have a bank statement with me or know if I was going to be leaving on a Thursday or Friday due to an incoming snow storm. Meanwhile my brother who was going through the process of becoming a permanent resident was told he had to leave, and that his lawyer didn’t know Canadian law.

    After talking to one of his friends that works for Canadian BP, we’ve learned to just lie when crossing.

  36. My heavens, some of you are unbelievable. Seriously, you’re afraid to cross a border? The US/Canada border?

    Living more than half my life in border states, I’ve gone back and forth at Port Huron/Sarnia, Detroit/Windsor, Fort Erie/Buffalo, and Niagara Falls hundreds of times. Sometimes you get a tight ass who barks at you nastily and searches your car for no reason. Sometimes you get waved through with barely a look. Usually, it’s something in between. I’ve driven around Europe and had much the same experience.

    It’s a border between allies, but it IS a national border, not a turnpike tollbooth.

    1. Are you American or Canadian? Your response could be quite telling as to why You’ve had fewer problems…

      As an aside, wow. The captchas are being really illegible today.

    2. girlchi@57,

      Most people don’t have trouble but, there is far too much anecdotal evidence to simply ignore this crap. The point here – that you do not seem to be getting – is that these people, the border guards, have complete power over you. They are almost free of judicial review, or any other type of oversight until it’s way too late to have any effect.

      It always infuriates me when people say “It didn’t happen to me.” How many times does it have to happen to others before people like you understand that you’re in their cross-hairs too? All you need is one of these people in a nasty mood for you to get yours.

      I imagine 95% of the border guards who do this job are good, decent people. But, irrespective of their good natures, they have complete control over you once you’re in their hands. That is a very BAD thing.

      I don’t know Watts. I love his books and follow his blog, which I wish he would post to more often. He can be snarky but, that’s no excuse for what the Border Guards did to him. The Rifters books are extraordinary. “Blindsight” has to be one of the most brilliant books of the last half century.

      Can ANYONE out there give us some idea of whom to contact? I’m sending as much as I can afford but, I want to do more.

      Look I’m an old middle class white guy. If I hadn’t been a protesting young folksinger in Greenwich Village in the 60’s, I would never have experienced what cops can do with impunity. All I can tell you is that after one encounter with the gendarmerie, I pissed blood for a week and, there was not a mark on me. Not something that even young middle class white boys experienced then or now.

      It can definitely happen to you.

    3. I went over two international borders last week; didn’t see or feel a thing. Your idea of what an international border is may be a bit parochial.
      Yours from Schengen

    4. Well as I am an European and have traveled around the world a bit — having even had the unpleasant experience of getting arrested once at the border for a minor misdemeanor — I have never EVER experienced anything of the kind, so I think your account on European border crossing might be somewhat flawed — especially since the Schengen agreement, as most internal borders are not checked anymore.

      BTW, let me just state here that I gave up long ago on any wish I had to ever visit the United (Police) States. There are plenty other more welcoming destinations that don’t require biometric profiling for a visit, thank you.

  37. Yet another reason never ever ever ever to go to the USA.

    I’ve watched that show ‘Homeland Security, USA’ on ABC and seen what these freaks(border guards/TSA agents) do when they get the least bit suspicious of your motivations… No thanks.

    I’m a large Canadian man from S. Ontario (over 6′, 300LBS with a beard) and would imagine a slight guard may be threatened by my physical appearance.
    Combine that with a penchant for marijuana use in the past and I’d be labelled a trafficker, have my car turned into a pile of parts and left to walk home (at best) back across the border.

    Best of luck Dr Watts.

  38. Just gave 20 euros, mostly just because I hate the DHS. Hah, even if I’ve had nothing to do with them. Idiocy just pisses me off.

    Well, there goes my name into the “rendition these people when they try to enter the country” list!

  39. i enjoy the comments about how we should just listen to a uniform and ask questions later. Uniforms have a good record, globally and especially in the USA.
    At what point _are_ we allowed to question a uniform?

  40. I live in Michigan, but since my dad lives in Canada I go there often. I have almost no trouble getting into Canada, it’s just getting back into the U.S. that’s the trouble. The border guards seem to becoming more and more dickish each day. Whenever I head back into the U.S. it takes hours and usually the border guards look for any excuse to search your car. For example, once the border guard said that I didn’t look like the picture in my passport, because my hair was longer in the picture than my hair length at the time. Really it just depends on what mood the guards are in.

  41. A few years ago I was crossing into Niagara Falls and the Canadian border guard wouldn’t let me across until I stated loudly that I wanted the Canadiens hockey team to win an upcoming game. I don’t follow hockey so I couldn’t care less who won, but I said it and he let me go. At the time I thought it strange but funny.

  42. I just sent a donation, I’ll accept Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross as character witnesses, and really- if the ONLY charge is assault, then something seems really wrong about this to me. There’s no reason a person legally crossing the border should even have cause to lose their temper.

    It’s not a real testimony to the greatness of our justice system that one needs to amass a small fortune just to fend off frivolous charges. I feel just awful for him- this sounds like a nightmare.

  43. This makes me wonder.
    What sort of treatment would I receive if I actually carry out my planned move to Canada? How will the border guards handle someone clearly moving from the US to Canada?

  44. My experience with power-hungry, tinpot tyrant (mostly US) border guards suggests this is another case of the same, taken to an extreme after Peter tried to stand up for his rights. Having met Peter (admittedly only a few times), I never got the impression of someone who’d pick a fight.

    Thus, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I am hoping to clarify a point. In my dealing with the US/Canada border crossing, I’ve only ever had to deal with the guards from the country I was entering. Why were US border guards involved, or even present, during Peter’s crossing back into Canada?

  45. To clarify one thing that may be confusing some people: since 9-11, US authorities sometimes set up checkpoints at bridges or tunnels leaving the country. Apparently, this is to help prevent terrorist attacks on these bits of infrastructure.

    1. Amplification for Anonymous #70 — The US Border Patrol sets up camp on the road LEAVING the USA — Buffalo crossing into Ontario routinely gamma scans cars on their way out of the USA.

      As an international family, I guess our file is thick enough on their screens to avoid issues, but… I can see this sort of escalation happening easily and frankly, the border is a less and less pleasant experience each year that passes. Sad but true. We’ve got international harmony and co-operation in a house full of a mixture of US and Canadian citizens, but as nations, we can’t get our shit together.

    2. Actually that is incorrect. CBP has been authorized to conduct exams on persons/vehicles leaving the country since 1789.

  46. I don’t care what the circumstances are, I loved this guys books (for free) so I dropped $5 for him. It’s not much, I know that, but what the heck, one way or another he’s going to need that $5 sometime.

  47. i get the feeling this doctor got lippy.

    i’ve been stopped multiple times at the canadian border (forgetting my passport, i’ve had 2 name changes so that’s always a fun one to explain, and once for accidentally saying i was going to canada to work but not get paid) and every time they’ve figured it out without too much hassle and let me by.
    they’ve searched our car asked all those provocative questions and i’ve just stood there and played dumb tourist… who always gets passed through! yay america!

      1. no it is not a crime. i understand that, but honestly i’ve mouthed off to cops enough (i am 36 years old) to know cops LOVE to abuse their power when ya do.

        wish the people on this message board were around to throw money at me when i was beaten up and then jailed for it.

        my advice: it’s a game. play smart.

  48. When speculating what he could have done to trigger getting beaten, i.e, “A guard tried to physically move him and he shoved back.” remember in the US, touching a cop’s elbow or putting your hand on his or her shoulder to get his or her attention to ask a question for example, is considered “assault” by most cops if they want an excuse to beat you down.

    At least they didn’t pull the “can you please zip up/down your jacket” trick and shoot the poor guy.

  49. I’m confused if he was going back to Canada from the US why he would have to deal with the US Border Patrol in the first place. You only deal with Canadian Border Patrol when you are entering Canada from US right?

    No, the US can also deal with you — ie. hold you incommunicado for several hours, with no outside contact allowed. Happened to friends of mine a few years ago in BC. White middle-aged couple, driving home after visiting relatives in the US. Apparently Homeland Security can hold you as long as they like (at least, that’s what they were told).

  50. I get the sense that he was stopped before he got to the border by US border patrol (different than the guards) but some clarification is needed.

    Maybe our government and ministers will get involved in protecting the rights of a Canadian citizen. Oh wait. They actually let the US ship off Maher Arar for torture. But Peter is white and not Muslim so he might have a better chance.

    And perhaps he got off easy. If it was the BC RCMP they would have just tasered him five times and stood by while he died.

  51. Canadians: Why isn’t this on the CBC yet? Let’s get this one all Canadian news networks pronto. Call and e-mail the stations, tell them to look into this. Let’s put the pressure on the Canadian government to come to our aid like they are supposed to!

  52. Likely scenario:

    He got out of his car and questioned them. Law enforcement types HATE being questioned or challenged over any decision they make (they especially hate college boys). Since he was emasculating them by daring to talk back they had to defend their manhood by overreacting, beating him up and then lying about it.

    A smug sense of self-rightiousness, a hypocritical code of ethics, and an inflated sense of your own abilities is mandatory for any law enforcement position.

  53. Sounds like Homeland Security is using the same sort of defence the RCMP attempted to use in the Robert Dziekanski case. Fortunately for the family, someone in the airport recorded a video of the affair and Canada’s national police force is now on the carpet.

    Asking questions, I thought, was the mark of a professional writer. And while it is a safer course of action to wonder what american forces are doing after they are gone, sometimes one simply has to ask. Often to our detriment.

    I hope this resolves itself and all concerned manage to save face, but I fear that it has now gone too far.

  54. To all the people who have commented that they are “never going to Canada” because of this, I suggest you read the article a little closer: he was beaten by *US* border guards. Not Canadian ones.

    I am concerned, though – it’s very, very rare to be inspected going OUT of the USA by DHS guards. I can’t say I’ve crossed at Port Huron before, but I’ve crossed at every other border crossing in Ontario (save Cornwall), and every crossing BACK into Canada does not *require* you to stop on the way out… well, except Queenston-Lewiston, but that’s a single stop light that sometimes (aka almost never) has a border guard in a booth (who I assume is running plates?).

    Queenston-Lewiston is a heavy commercial crossing, as is Port Huron, so maybe it has an outbound stop?

    Or did the people in his party have to stop at Export Control or US CIS for some sort of visa issue?

    Regardless, I sent him a small amount of cash – I’d have sent more, but I’m not working at the moment. :(

    I hope it all works out. Sadly, knowing the US legal system (I hold status in both countries), I’m sure it won’t.

    1. For those who wonder why a person returning to Canada was going though a US border patrol checkpoint, as a Michigan resident I can tell you that all three border crossings in the state routinely have checkpoints for outgoing traffic.

      I do believe that it is a combination of the heavy commercial traffic at these points as well as the classification of the bridges & tunnel as potential terrorism targets.

      I’m also reminded of a case a few years back where an Arabic man was hassled and detained for taking pictures of the Mackinac Bridge. Not a border crossing, but just as absurd – they asked why would anyone take pictures of the bridge if they weren’t a terrorist. Not like it’s a tourist attraction, a spectacular view and one of the engineering marvels of the modern world or anything…

  55. I love the commenters who imply that because they haven’t been hassled when crossing the border, anyone who claims they’ve been hassled should be disbelieved. Right up there with explaining how because they’ve never been beaten by a cop in their day-to-day lives, everyone who has been beaten must have done something to deserve it. Stay classy!

    1. Right, no one has ever been assaulted by the police without cause. Just look at the civil rights marchers in the US, they were just begging for it!

  56. To clarify: you have to go through a US border checkpoint on the way out of the country at Port Huron, before you go through the Canadian checkpoint to enter Canada. My trunk and suitcase were searched at this checkpoint on my last drive through.

    1. That’s weird. I’ve crossed at other checkpoints and only the country you’re entering wants to talk to you. Why is Port Huron different? What do we have to ask people who are leaving the U.S.?

    2. Cory,

      This is wrong. Leaving the US heading to Canada through Port Huron, you do *not* have to go through a US border patrol checkpoint. You head over the Blue Water Bridge and only once you are over it do you hit any border checkpoint, in Sarnia.

      I’ve driven this route countless times.

      This is not to say that the victim didn’t encounter a unit on patrol; however, there is no checkpoint to cross on the US side when passing from the US to Canada through Port Huron.

  57. Hll, m smrt-ss, slf-mprtnt lft-wng lbrl wh lks t smrt ff t nfrmd thrty fgrs lk ‘m 13 yrs ld nd thn b h whn thr r cnsqncs. Pls snd m $20.

    Moderator note: Read this.

    1. What does the political trolling have to do with this thread?

      What do you know about Dr. Watts’ politics?

      Your comment is not only vicious and mean spirited, its innapropriate. There are ways to express your disapproval that don’t require going wildly off topic and making things up just to be nasty.

    2. Listen, asshole, smarting off to uniformed authority figures is a protected right in this country. The fact that you think it isn’t shows how far down the country has fallen into total subservience to the soon-to-be-installed police state.

      Hope you’re happy being part of the lube for our national slide into fascism.

      1. Xopher. You’re absolutely right and your anger is natural because we feel angry when we KNOW something is unfair. The more unfair, the more angry we get. Anger is also more powerful than fear, grief, rejection, so we often choose anger over those vulnerable emotions. But given what you’ve said, and knowing that anger brings the worst out in people, especially aggressive angry people who may be drawn to professions in which they have power over other people and are given firearms and other weapons to assist them in their jobs, it might behoove you to learn how to mellow out a bit better. Dude. I know for me, if I speak in anger or act in anger I’m apt to perform some buttheaded faux pas or other that generally pisses off my opponent 9 times out of 10. Or hurts them, which is also not really what I want. So dude. New 21st century survival tactic. Notice the anger, know why you are angry, and let it go so you can think, man! think.

    3. “smart off to uniformed authority figures like I’m 13 years old and then boo hoo when there are consequences.”

      You know, I honestly wasn’t going to my money where my mouth was until I read this comment.

      $20 –> The cause.

  58. Woot. Nothing like a bunch of people who weren’t there making snap judgments about the writer, the guards, and the entire incident. Way to go, internet!

  59. I have read some of Peter’s “rifter” series and really enjoyed them. I am sad to hear he was hurt and hope he recovers soon and puts this trouble behind him. I hope that if he was wronged, those who wronged him get a serious wronging in return.

    I do agree, though, with the other poster that as much as I like boing boing – its one of the blogs that – imho- doesn’t have a strong history of journalistic integrity. Meaning they post anything they think might be news and pass it as of “triple confirmed” news when often its “i heard this rumor that….” – lets post it!

    I am accepting this article at face value, as I am sure Peter is suffering now and that’s horrible.

    1. I agree with Rosenkrantz, this is a blog, not a news source. This article is a post by someone whose friend has been mistreated by border guards and wants to raise public awareness, nothing else. I hope that a news source will take up the story and get more details about what happened and how it’ll be dealt with. Having said that “reputable” news sources can get it terribly wrong sometimes too.

    2. I must have missed where Boing Boing claimed to be a newspaper of record written by dispassionate, ultra-objective Martians. As opposed to, you know, a blog.

      I particularly like commenter rosenkrantz, who writes, referring to Boing Boing:

      They post anything they think might be news and pass it as of “triple confirmed”

      According to Google, the only time the phrase “triple confirmed” has ever appeared on boingboing.net is in that comment by rosenkrantz (and now, this comment responding). Suggesting, with quote marks, that Boing Boing routinely does this is what’s known as a lie. And you know something, rosenkrantz, you’re actually not supposed to tell lies.

  60. I do take issue with “without provocation”. Far to wide open. The definition that probably fits here is “the act of inducing rage, anger, or resentment in another person”. Not a high burden to meet. A comment or two can easily satisfy it.

    Just a guess on what happened based on what’s been said here:

    Pulled aside to search the vehicle by young border guards.

    Dr Watts likely had some comments that weren’t taken well.

    Something on the order of “Shut up or I’ll pepper spray you!”. Such is used to instill fear to maintain or reacquire authority in a situation.

    A quick comeback from Dr Watts.

    Pepper sprayed. Note, if sprayed you WILL tend to struggle, nearly impossible not to.

    Subdued via available means, baton, kicks, depends on how they are equipped.

    What do I base this one?
    1. As noted before, younger newer agents have “something to prove”. In addition the quality of people hired has seriously degraded due to much increased need. Unfortunately those who like to exercise power tend to go for these kinds of jobs. Last but not least, such folks tend to see people from another country as less of a person.

    2. As noted above “natural sarcasm” of Dr. Watts.

    3. Add in some additional stress, probably on both sides. Sitting in traffic for a while, bad egg salad sandwich, manager just left after chewing you out, lots of possibilities.

    Last but not least, I do hope some video surfaces, otherwise it’s going to be near impossible (sans political clout) for Dr. Watts to beat this and/or disprove the border agents statements.

  61. I feel sorry for Peter. Unless he had a sudden-onset psychotic episode, he is almost certainly the victim of over-reacting, over-testosteroned border guards. But those are precisely the kind of people you don’t mess with.

    If there’s any advantage to growing up poor, it’s knowing from an early age that the police will beat you up if they don’t like you, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. They will also charge you with offences you didn’t commit, and when you go to court the judge will take the policeman’s word over yours.

    I’ll be crossing the border again, one month from today. I will do it twice, once when I fly from the UK to Seattle and again when we drive up to Vancouver with my eldest son. I will be polite and deferential to any cops I find in my path, but especially to any customs and immigration officers. They have huge, arbitrary powers of search and arrest, on both sides of the border. And they don’t hesitate to use them.

  62. I donated $50 because I like his work and have all his books and because I have to imagine that in the extremely asymmetric situation of border guard vs. regular person, I will side with the regular person until it is glaringly proven otherwise. I would want someone to do the same for me.

    Also remember that in the United States (and Canada) it is still innocent until proven guilty and if the guy needs help to make sure his rights are honored while he tries to defend himself I will help.

    These stories of overreaching authority (I am assuming here, but remember the asymmetry) make my blood boil. I hope to never been in such a situation myself.

  63. Paypal sent (and a download of Behemoth taken).
    Best of luck, Peter – I hope there’s video that doesn’t get “disappeared” in the interim, and that this can be the catalyst for some reform. Sadly, power corrupts – I wonder if it’s ever possible to have fair and impartial law enforcement?

    1. Power corrupts far quicker and excessively than most people will believe. Take a look at “The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo”.

      But it can be kept to a bare minimum.

      Active and invasive oversight at all levels. Regular training and education again at all levels. Infractions are dealt with swiftly and as harshly as necessary and again at all levels.

      My rule of thumb is, the more power that is delegated, the more oversight and control is necessary.

      My last post looked a bit clinical on rereading it. Let me say that I’ve enjoyed many of Dr. Watts books, and that I’m inclined to think the wrong is on the side of the border guards.

      I wish Dr. Watts a speedy recovery and a minimum fuss getting out the quagmire, with any luck those in the wrong will get their just deserts.

      I recommend that anyone who has decent access contact their representatives and mention things like “beat down”, “international incident”, “things like this turn friends into acquaintances and acquaintances into enemies”, “rule of law, not rule of the club”, I’m sure everyone can come up with more.

      Last but not least, anyone having access to investigative bodies that can look into this… Federal, state, civil…

      1. Nice ideas. Unfortunately, I fear that the idiot culture we live in these days will fail to respond to these abuses of power adequately (or at all), and this whole mess will get worse before it gets better. This stuff keeps up, and I fear that one of these days we’re going to witness a tragedy that’d make Matewan look like a summer Sunday picnic.

  64. We won’t know more until we hear more. All else is speculation.
    That said, I think the fact that he was beaten and pepper-sprayed by border guards deserves sympathy, and his legal defense deserves support since it’ll be an uphill battle.

    1. joeposts wrote: For every inane troll-post, we all donate $25

      Hey, c’mon man – the goal is to cover his legal costs, not make him a billionaire!

  65. I don’t care what he said. He was clearly unarmed, and it should be obvious to anyone that physical force was not going to be needed with a middle aged Candadian writer up against several armed officers.

    I haven’t been over the border in a while but my parents and my 80 yr old grandparents have told me that they are finding US officials increasing hostile including yelling at my dad for helping my mother, who is paralyzed on one side out the car so they could search her.

  66. A friend of mine had a scare at the border recently on a trip to New York. They decided to go see the falls on the Canadian side, and they tried to pull a good one on her… she didn’t think to bring birth certificates for her children (FOR A TWO HOUR SIGHT-SEEING TRIP) and had no way to prove to the border police that they were her kids. They held them for three hours, questioned her and her fiance AND the kids and FINALLY let them go. The tried to tell her that she could go, but she’d have to leave the kids. What??? I’ll never get to see Canada, because I’m too afraid to try to go over the border. The worst part is they were US border police!

  67. This looks like another case being charged with assaulting an officer for hitting his clenched fist with your face.
    I hate border crossings and avoid them unless I have a really good reason precisely because I don’t like dealing with jackbooted tin-pot dictators.

  68. Here’s what he said on his blog this AM:


    Not the Best of Possible Worlds.
    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.

  69. Look, people, you just don’t understand what it’s like to be an agent of the US Federal Government.

    See, it’s like when you really really want a hamburger, and the hamburger’s right there, you just have eat that hamburger. That’s why we have to beat these people up, they are talking back, it’s just like that hamburger, don’t you understand?

    And once they’ve been damaged, you have to file charges, so you don’t get fired. Just say they assaulted you first and everything will come out OK in the end. There’s really no other options anywhere here!

    C’mon, people, have a little Christian charity, sometimes you just really have to have that hamburger.

  70. Wow, such a collection of trolls we have have assembled here. The story is heartbreaking. I don’t know where people get off assuming the victim is responsible for what happened when they know nothing of the facts. (I’m talking to you: Scratch and the soon to be disemvowelled Anton Chigurh, at the risk of feeding your feeble appetites for juvenile attention. You certainly know how a badly behaved 13 year old acts. Thanks for sharing!)

    One of my very good friends had something very much like this happen to him when stopped by Houston cops (notorious for their friendliness, I say with complete sarcasm.) They asked him to get out of the car. He complied. They searched his vehicle w/o probable cause (he had not been drinking or anything) and proceeded to beat him down ’cause they didn’t like the cut of his jib. So two 6’+, 250lb+ cops put him in the hospital and charged him with “resisting arrest” (on no charge) and in court they said that, handcuffed and on the ground, he (at 5’6, 150lbs) forced them both off of him somehow and started to make a break for it, so they did their duty bringing this dangerous menace to justice. (He had to plead out for time served as he only had a public defender, and no witnesses on his side.) If you’ve ever been arrested, you know that law enforcement types draw a very distinct line between us civvies and their ilk, and we are not human in their eyes. Talking a job like that, for the most part, seems to be all about feeling superior to the rest of us.

    I will shortly be making a donation to this worthy cause. Last I checked we are innocent until proven guilty, even in Canada.

    1. “resisting arrest” (on no charge)

      Ugh. I’m one of those “smart-ass, self-important left-wing liberals,” to quote the 13 year old, who is of the opinion that a charge of “resisting arrest,” after the cops find out you were innocent of anything else in the first place, serves no other purpose than to send a message to the victim that that’s what they get for not respecting the cops’ authority. What else is it but revenge?

      1. I completely agree. Abuse of power in the original act and in the cover-up, with far-reaching consequences to the life of the victim for years to come. It’s quite often like in Clockwork Orange where the former droogs are the ones who get the badge and the billy club when they “grow up”, so they can keep doing what they did best in youth. Most people are unable to stand up to it, as someone pointed out above, and they are counting on this.

        I don’t know Dr. Watts, but from reading his words today and seeing his photo, I can tell he is not the kind of person who would start shit with authority figures just for the fun of it, or that he has pent up aggression ready to go off on anyone in a physical way. As citizens in a democracy, we have the right to question those who would suspend our rights, even temporarily. They do work for us in the public trust, right?

        And correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t pepper spray supposed to be a non-violent solution to be used in lieu of violence? Why then the total overkill of spraying him in addition to beating him? Are we supposed to believe this PhD-earning academic and author is some sort of closet behemoth, posing a threat to a group of trained and armed law-enforcement officers? And as Xopher pointed out, releasing him without proper clothing or transportation in the midst of a winter storm is very revealing about the mentality we’re dealing with here. I’m not one to jump to snap judgments before the facts are in, but the more you look at it, the fishier it seems on the part of the border officials. I echo the sentiments above that these fuckers would seem to deserve no less than losing their jobs, and hopefully are criminally prosecuted as well for what seems to me to be a very gross misuse of power.

  71. Since we’re inventing scenarios, here’s mine:


    Department of Stupid Assholes Goon: Please get out of your car, sir.

    Peter Watts: [complying] Why are you searching my car? I’m leaving the US, not entering it.

    DSA Goon: We don’t need a reason.

    PW: OK. Just curious.

    DSA Goon: Shut up! I’ll search your car if I want to!

    PW: OK, OK, I was just…

    DSA Goon: You’re resisting! [pepper sprays Peter]

    PW: [crumpling in agony] Arrrgh!

    DSA Goon: Straighten up! [Peter tries but can’t; the pain is too great] Hey, this guy’s disobeying my lawful orders! Come help subdue him! [he and his fellow HJ thugs savagely beat Peter]


    There. That’s at least as plausible as any you authoritarian apologists (I’m being polite here) have proposed.

  72. There is likely information we don’t have, however no matter what we don’t know, there’s no excuse for any border patrol officers of any country to resort to this level of violence. I am ashamed of my country and I hope the people who did this to Mr. Watts burn for what they did. They probably won’t, since apparently America has ceased to become a place of justice, but I can still hope…

  73. $50.00 sent. I’ve had the pleasure to meet Peter Watts in person, over beer and pizza, and at least based off of the few hours I’d spent in his company, I do agree with prior posters:

    He doesn’t strike me, at all, as the sort to ever assault anyone. Lip ’em off? Sure, I could see that. But assault? No.

    Sick, sad world.

  74. One of the problems here is oversight/accountability of the border guards. If the guards are so confident they’re behaving according to standards, prove it: have cameras film every interaction. Keep the filmed records for a minimum of a month; in the event the records become useful in a legal proceeding and are requested by anyone with standing in the case, the records must be produced. Failure to produce = cover up.

    1. and while you’re at it, feed the video live to the internet, because let’s face it, videos can be (and are) doctored all the time

  75. My best wishes to Peter, who’s a kick-ass writer and an unfailingly nice guy when we’ve emailed back and forth. I’m both keeping an eye on this one, and sending it to my Congressmen as an example of how broken we’ve let things get. In our zeal for “security”…we’ve lost our way.

  76. Obviously didn’t see the post from Peter’s blog before posting my last. As someone who grew up in Michigan, let me tell you this: pushing someone out into a winter storm (carefully waiting until after public transportation was no longer available) without a coat in that part of the world is attempted murder.

    I hope these DSA thugs do serious hard time (unlikely, I realize). I wish I believed in Hell so they could burn in it.

  77. The only remedy we have is our own personal video surveillance running 24/7 broadcasting a stream into the ether back to our servers on the Internet. Is there an app for that? A dashcam wouldn’t work – once the vehicle is in control of the oppressors, it would be trivial for them to damage the cam or lose the tape. Pick up the phone and call someone – “Hey, I just got stopped by the cops – record this video in case something happens.” I just googled it, it looks like there are apps, one call UStream, another called Knocking Live. A friend of mine used to say, “Paranoia is just smart thinking when they’re really out to get you.” I used to think it was funny, a leftover from Communist Russia days, we’re in the U.S. of A., that kind of stuff only happens in other countries, right? Welcome to the New World Order, people.

  78. Years ago I and two relatives were traveling from Canada back into the US–part of a cross-continental road trip.

    I’m a US citizen, my mom then was Canadian with a green card (at the time near to becoming a dual C-US citizen) and my cousin was visiting from Germany- joining us for part of the return drive.

    I’ve never seen a guard get so angry so fast over simple facts. Yes, my mom and I had different citizenships. Yes, my cousin was from Europe. After a couple of minutes of looking over our passports and asking us basic questions his face turned bright red.

    He didn’t understand how my cousin could just fly from Germany on three weeks notice (it was summertime= college break). The guard spent a few minutes loudly telling how how he could keep my cousin out of the country if he wanted, and how my cousin must obey all the laws here or get arrested. We just nodded.

    He then spent around 10 minutes lecturing my mom on how he could keep her out the the country *forever* were there to be anything wrong with her green card. He explained how he had this power over her. He specifically mentioned how having a US child (me) could not protect her. (?) He went on and on.

    We just nodded or gave short answers followed by “sir”.

    He lit into my mom for *having* a green card instead of already being a citizen (see above- she was in the process. The process takes time.)

    We just nodded. I knew that any answer that showed some tooth would move him into rage. And while my mom and I were relatively safe, my cousin wasn’t. I was scared into silence by a guard on my own border.

    We triggered his anger just by being different. I’ve had good border crossings as well, but I still, even now, feel how helpless and horrified I was when needing to respect his authority.

  79. I just sent links to this piece, Watts’ own account on his blog, and the Locus online article to my local newspaper and the Toronto Star, with the suggestion that lots of people would like to hear about this and find out the truth.

    I live in a town near a border crossing, and I’m far from the only one to be making nervous jokes when the topic of crossing the US border comes up: a recent phenomenon.

  80. note to self: when crossing the border, the correct response to “Do you have any weapons?” is never “What do you need?”

  81. What the authoritarian apologists don’t seem to realize is that police are held to a higher authority.

    Somebody “smarts off”, “gets lippy” or acts like they might get violent? It is the job of a cop to defuse and control the situation. If it escalates to violence they have failed at their job.

    But it doesn’t matter. These trolls are nothing more than Beavis and Butthead screaming “The taser, use the taser!”

    I’ll be donating to Peter when I get home from work. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it will blow his mind. He really freaks out when people act altruistic.

    Going by Dr. Watts’ own description of the incident, this key detail makes me think something else was going on here: He describes a “cluster” of guards that waved him over and “swarmed” his rental vehicle before he even got out. That’s not standard practice that I know of unless something else has set off warning signals. I begin to wonder if Peter’s rental car might be a vehicle used in the past for more suspicious crossings, and its license plate turned up on a flagged list.

    That said, Dr. Watts by his own admission did make two critical mistakes: He got out of the vehicle before he was instructed to, and he did not immediately get back *in* the vehicle when he *was* instructed to. Border guards are not beat cops — they are keeping an eye out for dangerous people trying to smuggle destructive substances, and are instructed to err on the side of paranoia. Refusing to comply with their instructions in *any* way is a danger signal to them, as is anything that might be construed as aggressive behaviour (an area in which police are traditionally granted fairly wide latitude in assessing degree of threat).

    All that notwithstanding, however, it seems almost 100% certain that these guards crossed the line and need to be charged for it. I will be contributing to Dr. Watts’ defense fund when I get home tonight.

    1. “The US-Canadian border is a surreal place”

      I was talking about border guards with a friend who works for Canadian Immigration. They don’t oversee the border guards as of 9/11, and there’s not much oversight. I do have some sympathy for both countries’ guards though – it must be sort of frustrating to search so many innocent people and detain anyone who asks a question, but a mile down the road someone is carrying $500,000 worth of drugs, money or guns across a border that’s completely porous. So they nail journalists, scientists (like Andrew Feldmar) and writers who try to cross legitimately but ask the wrong questions. Because that’s all they can do. Because only the stupidest of criminals try to cross that border via a border crossing. It’s not like there’s a shortage of Canadian weed or American guns on either side of the line.

  83. Cory, more people should have friends like you.

    As mentioned above, I too am confused by the fact that he was detained and searched by U.S. border guards while trying to re-enter Canada. Obviously, they DO have jurisdiction right up to the border. Just never heard of them exercising it that way.

    One other thing which may or may not be a relevant topic to discuss…

    I’ve HEARD (but have no evidence) that the U.S. maintains listening posts for vehicles on their approach to the border. Meaning, it would be prudent to not even joke about bombs or smuggling (specially, if one were to revel in one’s prior success at sneaking something past those dumb border goons) or even make derogatory comments about authority figures while sitting in your car in the line up to the border. Never know who’s listening or how they may take it.

    1. I have been stopped and searched on the US side while entering Canada. I gather it’s uncommon but not unheard of.

  84. this is why cameras are the new guns. The authorities know what to do with a man with a gun, shoot him. A man with a camera is a lot harder for them to deal with. Authorities are really terrified of cameras. Everyone should have a video camera these days whether it is in their phone or flip. When you sense that something with the authorities is starting to go south, start recording. Sure it won’t work every time because they can just take that from you but if you don’t do it you are far more likely to be screwed. This sucks be sadly it is not surprising.

    1. SKR (comment #114) When they search your car, they have you leave all cameras, phones, etc. in the car. So unless you’re wearing a button cam, there’s no filming them.

      1. but what about the people in the car behind them or the one behind that? If I was in the car behind them and I saw the border cop getting agitated, I would start shooting in anticipation of catching something on film. Then straight to youtube so they can’t take the memorystick or whatever.

        1. When they search your car, they take you out of the line and off to a separate area where only other people having their cars searched go. (I know the crossing in question).
          It’s like they are deliberately trying to keep people from getting video of them or something.

          1. ok, well maybe it wouldn’t work at that particular crossing. Weird, it’s like they have something to hide or something.

  85. I live in Michigan, grew up here. My wife loves long pointless drives. The bridge and tunnel from Detroit to Windsor are within our wandering range, but we haven’t visited Canada since receiving a rash of crap from US border guards when we came back from a pointless cruise, circa 1999. Canada is unfortunately losing a tiny bit of tourism dollars because of US goons we’d have to deal with on the way back.

  86. I tossed a few bucks in the Paypal pot. I agree it’s possible there’s more to the story than we’ve heard so far but people I know and trust are vouching for the guy, which counts for a lot in my book.

  87. hell that is bad!

    it’s happening here in the uk.

    someone forgot to tell our police/border/rent-cops that they are public servants


  88. I’m f*cking furious that this has happened. I know Peter Watts to be a down to earth and generally nice fellow.

    Of course he has a very self-deprecating sense of humor, but last I checked, being sarcastic to a cop is not a crime.

    Cory, thanks for posting this. If anything, the news of this outrage is going to reach far and wide thanks to BB’s huge popularity. I would ask that you keep us informed as much as possible. You’re probably closer to Peter than many of us here and might hear of news and developments a little faster.

  89. #76,

    I strongly agree with your observations. I was protesting the war once, peacefully and even legally, when the cops jumped me, knocked me down, and pepper sprayed me at close range. I went into spasms from the pain. I was also severely beaten, and had my glasses stepped on.

  90. I wonder if it would help to start a signature-gathering (or letter-writing) campaign from fellow writers and Watts’ fans. Might make the government consider dropping charges if they realize he has a million friends.

  91. Many years ago while crossing into Canada, I was asked if I had any weapons. I said no, because I didn’t have anything I considered a weaopn (knife, firearm, etc). Then I remembered my pepper spray, which I took out of my purse, held up and asked if it was considered a weapon by Canadian standards.

    I was detained, restrained and separated from the rest of my party. I was yelled at and verbally abused, accused of “smuggling” and threatened with jail time. It was unreal.

    It took a lot of tears and pleading on my part and the part of my friends to get them to at least take the cuffs off. In the end I wasn’t charged, but you can be sure that even twelve years later I’m terrified of crossing a border into ANY country.

    I wish Dr Watts good luck. He’ll need it. :(

  92. I live in Canada, like most of Canada I live “near the border” relatively speaking, and have crossed it a number of times. When crossing the border you aren’t giving up your rights, but they’re definitely taken anyway for the duration.

  93. This is awful. I am hoping it gets picked up some where in the media. My brother has been thrown into jail for the exact same reason. Asking why he was being stopped. They didn’t beat him. I will make sure he knows how lucky he was.

    I have three brothers who are police officers. They are all as sarcastic as I. I have done ride alongs with them and heard them take sarcasm by giving sarcasm back. They have never been anyone for giving them lip

    Asking questions does not a beat down make. Violence is suppose to be the final response to eminent danger. No other reasons for violence by officers is excusable.

  94. This is absolutely crazy! I hope the evidence really is on Peter’s side and the guards who beat him up and wrongly accused him are locked up and stripped of their jobs!

  95. Surely there are ways to get a non-threatening, intelligent person back in the car without violence. Batons and pepper spray may break my bones, but sarcasm will never hurt me.

  96. Some have questioned why he was searched on the way out of the States. This will become the new norm as the facilities are put in place.

    The purpose of requiring the passport is that you will be required to scan your passport both ways. Going in and getting out.

  97. I’ve been saying for years that I’m done with america and this really clinches it for me. I won’t even use an american airline that connects me with a flight to another country if I have to change planes within america. Border patrol doesn’t seem to understand the concept that I’m uninterested in their country….it simply happens to be between where I am and where I’m going. Ciao america, don’t bother to write.

    p.s. I’ll be making a donation. This kind of power-mad behavior has to stop.

  98. You know that once he’s convicted, the “Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund” will be added to the list of foreign criminal organizations, and you all will be on the list as providing financial support to foreign criminal cabals. Enjoy traveling by Greyhound.

    1. So? the US of A was founded on the premise that we as self-respecting humans didn’t have to put up with abject thuggery. If I have to pay cash for bus tickets for the rest of my life because I helped a man who’d been MUGGED AND ROBBED, then so be it.

      Besides, I prefer to ride rather than fly, any day. Shoot, now I want to organize a road trip to this specific border crossing, so that a thousand bikers can flip these jokers a birdie.

      For shame, Department of Homeland Security, for shame.

      $$ tossed to the Kibble Fund.

  99. I remember Peter telling me at our Gibraltar Point workshop last year that he sure as hell would never visit the US during the Bush years, but he’d reconsider once Obama got in. (Or words to that effect–it was over a year ago, so my memory is a tad fuzzy.) In the same conversation, I recall telling him all my “fun” stories from border crossings, but this crap takes the effing cake. I CAN believe that the guards would do that shit, but that doesn’t make it right.

    I’m definitely contributing the fund as soon as I can.

  100. Some may wonder about the other side of the story – fair enough. I can only say that the present version sounds very credible. Police, and even more so, quasi-police forces are full of guys whose main motivation to sign up was testosterone, whose training pumped it up by emphasizing shooting and physically fighting, and then were assigned to jobs that are (should be) essentially clerical. They end up itching for action, and for some – poof – it goes off. I base this opinion on several stories that sound not much unlike this one.

  101. For anyone outside the U.S., please know that even we Americans get mistreated by Homeland Security. To them, everyone is a terrorist. I hope Peter tears them a new one.

  102. Two things I know are true:

    1) People in authority such as the border guard’s frequently abuse it with little to no provocation.
    2) A person’s friends and family will usually defend them to the hilt in any legal problems, regardless of the truth.

    But even given No. 1, I can’t think of a good reason to come onto Mr. Doctorow’s blog and question his integrity, let alone create made-up versions of the events that have no basis.

    If you don’t want to donate, don’t.

  103. This comment thread is disturbing to me.

    Far too many of the comments fall into one of these categories:

    1) A border guard was (rude/power hungry/a dickwad) to (me/a friend of mine/this one guy I heard about) once so this story must be true!
    2) Border guards have never been rude to me personally so this story must be false!
    3) I have (met/emailed/read something written by) (Dr. Watts/Cory/some other SF writer who chimed in) and I like (this person/their writing) so the story must be true!
    4) Everyone knows the government sucks and is out to get us all!
    5) You over there who disagrees with me must be a troll!

    Seriously? I thought BoingBoing readers were better at critical thinking than that.

    1. I thought BoingBoing readers were better at critical thinking than that.

      There’s a certain irony in that.

  104. Unfortunately, there’s been several cases in just the past few years in Vegas where the police beat people mercilessly and it was caught on camera. They beat a homeless man to death downtown. They beat a French tourist to death when they couldn’t understand he needed his medication. They beat a US veteran on his way back to another tour to the point where he’s crippled for life. But I suppose he deserved it. I mean, after all the airport security clearly shows him drinking the rest of his overpriced airport sprite instead of throwing it in the hazardous liquids bin.

    In each of these cases the cops got paid administrative leave and the newspapers reminded people that it’s against the law to film officers without their consent.

    The US is under hostile occupation and has been for years.

    What would Patrick Henry say?

    1. I would like to know more about the US Veteran. that just makes me FURIOUS!!!! I hope to heck that the US Military came down on those cops/tsa or whoever they were.

  105. Wow that sucks. America the free huh? Good luck with the defense. I will have to look into his books to see if they are any good. Either way, it appears he was in contempt of cop.

  106. Ok, I stand corrected. He assaulted their fists with his face. A crime to be sure, and just the sort of thing one wants to do at a border crossing in a winter storm.

  107. I’m so sorry this happened. I’m an American, and when other Americans behave in such a brutal and unjust manner, it’s embarrassing to ALL of us. :-(

    Alas, we have no money to spare, but I’ll be remembering Dr. Watts and everyone else who has been treated shabbily by U.S. Border Guards in my prayers.

  108. This whole débacle makes me want to scream. I can quite well believe it after my own experience with US border guards, back in 2005.

    A suggestion for fundraising for Dr Watts’ defence: why don’t you create a fandom auction community on Dreamwidth or LiveJournal? Or both? We managed to raise $50,000 to fight California’s Prop. 8 at the livelongnmarry community on LJ; I’m sure fandom can do something to help.

    Best of luck,
    Tria (British citizen, thank goodness.)

  109. I was born in Sarnia and live in the States now. My grandparents, who are Canadian and live in Sarnia, use the bridge every week.

    It’s really scary to think that things like this are going on at the border crossing I have used hundreds of times in my life, whether it was warranted or not.

    Canadians are your friends, Americans. We’re not all that different, really. We’re your allies–economic and military–not someone to be feared.

  110. I just made a $50CDN donation. As an indigenous person who regularly crosses the border, the guards are self-righteous, trumped up on their own power. They have no tact, no diplomacy, no courtesy. They are mostly fascist brutes — on both sides. And as long as a person can be beaten up for questioning authority when authority baselessly demands compliance, I stand behind the defense of a citizen who is unjustly accused.

  111. Considering the new round of crooked cops found within the Metropolitan Toronto Police force, none of this insanity surprises me. I’ve crossed the Bluewater bridge a number of times and ever so lately they have been more and more blunt and edgy.
    I suppose they really are gearing up to come across and take all our resources in Canada.

  112. Over at Making Light, Jo Walton defined the crime for which Peter Watts was actually arrested: “Insufficient Cringe.”

  113. It’s significant that it was a rental car. The US customs targets them. As my wife explains here, “Will and I crossed into the U.S. in a rental car a couple years ago, and our car was searched; so was the rental car of the white-haired couple who shared the waiting cell with us. None of the four of us questioned our temporary captors, because we knew it would, at best, cause them to take our cars apart. At worst, it would result in what happened to Peter Watts. We talked to each other, though, as prisoners do, and learned we had rental cars in common.”

  114. FWIW, from the CPB website:

    Chief Patrol Agent: Randy L. Gallegos
    Deputy Chief Patrol Agent: Vacant

    Service Area: Detroit Sector area of responsibility includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.

    Sector Headquarters Location: Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan

    Stations: Stations of the Detroit Sector are located in Detroit, Port Huron, Sault Ste. Marie, Gibralter, Michigan, and Sandusky, Ohio.

    Contact Information: Phone Number – (586) 239-2160; Sector Headquarters Mailing Address – P.O. Box 450040, Selfridge ANGB, MI 48045-0040.

    Community Feedback: We strive to provide quality service to our customers. If we have not lived up to this commitment, we would like to know. If we have met or exceeded your expectations, please let us know that as well. To comment on the services provided by this office, please write to the Sector Chief Patrol Agent. If you feel you were mistreated by a Border Patrol employee or wish to make a complaint of misconduct by a Border Patrol employee, you may write to the Chief Patrol Agent.

  115. Peter’s a friend. I’ve known him for years. He’s non-violent. He will ask questions; so would I in that situation. He’s also close to seven feet tall. I suspect his “crime” was being taller than the border guards, and more articulate.

  116. A.C.A.B it’s true. something like this can and soon will happen to you if you defend the cops. a cop must prove that did not abuse his power not the other way around. they are paid with taxpayer money to protect and SERVE not to tase and peperspray everyone that talks back to them.

    but then again A.C.A.B. it’s true so unless you put some of them on trial and make examples of them they will continue to behave as masters and treat you as a slave.

  117. Last time I was in the US I watched the TSA genii at the airport drag an old man (looked to be around 80) in a large leg cast out of the wheelchair his equally old wife was pushing, and force him to try to walk through the metal detector. Note that they didn’t offer to help him through or allow his wife to help him but instead half pushed an old man with a broken leg through the gate.

    Shortly after my return to (near) civilization I read about a woman (tourist) who had an accident in USA, and while she was in hospital her children were put in an orphanage and it took her legal wrangling and bullshit (she was considered an incompetent mother because she couldn’t take care of her kids.. she needed medical care..) to get them back.

    That (border insanity and general legal insanity), coupled with the state of medical care in the US is enough for me never to go there again, even though I liked my visits there (for the most part, the near mugging in Washington DC was uncool) I will not return in the silly climate which the US government seems to enjoy so. Especially with my family. No way.
    And this sentiment is echoed by many others who would otherwise have been tempted to travel the US and spend their money there. I see so many other good options for traveling and collaboration which do not involve the sort of treatment you get at US airports on a good day.

  118. I’m from the U.S., and I’ve gotta say: the difference between U.S. & Canadian border guards is like night and day. I’ve traveled between the two countries a lot, and the Canadian border authorities have never been anything but polite and professional when dealing with me — even the one time they searched my car.

    U.S. border guards, on the other hand, seem to think it’s okay to act like intimidating thugs. I like in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On my way back from Worldcon, I was questioned for longer than the usual time. Then the guard asked me what I thought about the Gates incident involving the Cambridge cops earlier this year. Totally inappropriate. What the hell makes it okay to ask me what I think about a police-citizen incident, clearly a divisive political matter, while the agent is sitting there deciding whether to take my car apart?

    I sure hope Peter gets through this okay, but honestly, he’s lucky compared to some. I suspect that this sort of thing happens more often than we’d like to think about to people who don’t have friends in the media or a community that will rally around them.

  119. This sort of thing happens on the US/Mexican border as well but, because the immigration topic is such a controversial one, accusations of US Border agents raping, stealing and beating the migrants always gets swept under the rug after a couple of days. Plus, the right-wing will have you believe that talking bad about any US Military, Police, or Immigration Officers…is downright un-American.

  120. “And this sentiment is echoed by many others who would otherwise have been tempted to travel the US and spend their money there.”

    i have a friend in new york and i wanted to visit. getting a visa is a 10 day affair that includes an interview with someone in the american embassy. i abandoned my plans when the embassy clerk asked me what do my parents do for a living. wtf i am 32? what do they care? not to mention other demented financial and personal questions and the fingerprinting. is america so convinced that everyone wants either bomb it or live there? you are so fked up.

    1. Yeah, we are. And most Americans are either completely unaware of how fucked up we are or think it’s fine the way it is. I’m trying to figure out WTF I can do about it.

      Everyone went crazy after 9/11, and some of us hoped Obama would roll back some of that craziness, but he hasn’t.

      The only solution I can think of is to flee and never come back, but I have family and friends here, including some who could never afford to visit me overseas. Besides, I fucking refuse to let them have my beloved country! Patriots have fought and bled and died here and abroad for the freedoms the fearmongers would have us sell for imaginary safety. Fuck them and the elephant they rode in on.

      1. fleeing is rarely a good move unless you intend to come back with a fury. and i believe that few places welcome americans nowadays. unless you are willing to denounce your own country in any possible occasion which is what will be expected from you in Europe. a couple of americans i know get by only by continually repeating how bad EVERYTHING in america is which i find sad since i know they do not really believe it. but they have no other choice if they want to fit in. Europeans can be pretty snobs and assholes if they want to.

        come visit(its easy LOL) but stay there and fight. by any means necessary. here we riot a lot. try it it helps a lot putting fear in them. they tend to listen a bit better if they know that an angry crowd waits eager to set them on fire.

        1. Things aren’t quite bad enough for me to flee and raise an army. That would take a complete overthrow of our system. If Cheney had cancelled the 2008 elections due to “security concerns” and proclaimed his plastic bobblehead doll Bush “President for the duration of the present crisis,” I might have seriously considered it, not least because it wouldn’t be long after that that they would start rounding up people like me and sending us off to Camp Coulter, where we’d be “shot while trying to escape,” without exception.

          I’ll hold off for now.

          1. armies are stupid. i was talking about ideas. traveling opens your mind and lets you understand that you are not the center of the universe and that there are more ways to do the same thing. and ideas are more dangerous than bombs.

          2. I spent a summer in Germany in 1976. That included a visit to (then) East Berlin. Other than that my travel outside the US has been limited to several visits to Canada.

            But there are some fairly significant cultural differences even within the US. Visiting Texas was an eye-popping experience for a dyed-in-the-wool damyankee like me.

            I supplement my knowledge of other places by having internet friends on every continent. NOT as good as traveling there, no, but useful.

            As for fury…I have, if anything, too much.

          3. @ Xopher

            “I supplement my knowledge of other places by having internet friends on every continent. NOT as good as traveling there, no, but useful.”

            yep i feel you. i too have friends all over the globe. but the internet tho’ a great resource and the greatest revolution since electricity does not make up for the real thing. visiting the US was something i wanted to do forever. and once i got the opportunity to actually visit i got treated as a criminal. there is something called pride so i said fk them but it was a pity all the same.

            as for the rest you could always riot. sometimes being civil only makes you look dumb and helpless. i read this today:


            it is disheartening to see how the american dream has gotten so low. european snobism apart everyone with half a brain looks at the states to get a glimpse of things to come. and the news are bad.

            riots are all over europe, we still wait for the american response. paperpushing is not going to cut it, not this time and Obama is betraying the hope.

            PS: sorry for the OT.

          4. riots are all over europe

            (looks out window)


            unless you are willing to denounce your own country in any possible occasion which is what will be expected from you in Europe. a couple of americans i know get by only by continually repeating how bad EVERYTHING in america is which i find sad since i know they do not really believe it. but they have no other choice if they want to fit in.

            I’ve been an American expat in Europe for sixteen years, nearly seventeen now, and that’s just not true.

            What Europeans want, what anyone wants, is the truth rather than propaganda. Admit what’s bad, celebrate what’s good, explain what’s incomprehensible. And listen when your hosts do the same about their country.

            The highest pressure to “denounce your foreign ways and love everything we do here in the best country in the world” comes from Americans. Europeans, used to living cheek by jowl with foreigners, are not the snobs you think they are, as long as you don’t try to feed them a bunch of BS about the infallibility of America.

            Sorry, I know it’s off-topic, but the rest of the world really doesn’t hate the US. This bunker mentality, where (a) Europe is consumed by anarchy and (b) everyone hates America and humiliates American expats, is only possible because so very few Americans seem to travel much, so these stories just grow in the telling.

            And, unfortunately, incidents like this damage the chances that people will come to the US and see it for what it is, for good and ill, or that Americans will come in more contact with foreigners and dispel some of these myths.

          5. well i don’t know where in europe do you live but we had some riots here in Greece some of it in Italy (where the fkin army is patrolling cities for the last 2 years) and strikes in more countries than i can remember. as for american expats bashing constantly the US i have seen some. anyway it’s a long debate and this is not the place.

            i agree with most of what you say specially that the world does not inherently hate america. actually most of it loves it tho’ they will not admit it. but again this is not the place for this debate.

        2. Oh, please. Let me counter your anecdotal evidence of “European bad behavior” with my own experience: I’ve lived in “Europe” (specifically, in France and Germany) for 8+ years, and know a large number of American ex-pats who live in many EU countries. We are not in any way required to bad-mouth the U.S. in order to “get by.” Our French and German colleagues and neighbors were understandably put off by BushCo, but did not automatically paint all Americans with the same skeptical brush.

          Is there anti-American sentiment here? A little bit, but never anywhere near what you apparently are willing to believe, and far less now than during the Bush years. Are there snobs and assholes here? Certainly, but no more than there are ethnocentric nationalistic snobby and asshole-y Americans. And quite honestly, many Europeans are far better informed about what’s happening in America than a lot of Americans (thanks in no small measure to the greater reliance on fact-based reporting here).

          My neighbors are surprised and appalled at the problems America is having at present, from economic hardship to the developing Afghan quagmire, along with the rankly dishonest partisan efforts to block genuine health care reform. Add these factors to the kinds of stories about abusive and arbitrary border crossing incidents (coupled with the expense and inconvenience of having to get visas)… and most of my very pro-America friends (some of whom have lived in the States for prolonged periods of time) are regretfully shelving their plans to travel to the USA anytime soon. America is the poorer for all of this in every respect.

          1. in case you didn’t understand it i am not american and i bash both sides for dogmatism. my evidence maybe anecdotal (so is yours isn’t it) but it is not far fetched.

            i agree that europeans tend to be better informed mainly because we care about what happens in america while most americans don’t even know basic european geography. i was asked for example what language we speak in greece, this guy seemed to think that greece’s official language was french like in some african ex-colonies.

            maybe i wasn’t clear tho’ so let me get this straight. i do not hate americans (or anybody else for that matter)

  121. Both Canadian and US border cops seem to have something up their asses. Just last week Amy Goodman from Democracy Now, was interrogated like a criminal at the Canadian crossing from between Seattle and Vancouver.

    When i was going through customs from Canada To US in Vancouver, the US border officer might as well been giving me the finger the entire time i was talking to him *more like being questioned like i have killed off his entire family*.

    It’s like you cannot question those people, because if u that, this will happen…..scary

  122. Cory,

    While you and I do not and will not agree on everything, I really like and respect you. We’ve met several times here in the states, most recently at Penguicon.

    Contrary to what 95% of the people posting here are saying, it is my experience that in most cases when someone gets sprayed and smacked down, the person getting that went out of their way to get it. This is especially true when there are video cameras present.

    Yes there are bad cops. If what happened to Dr. Watts was unearned, I’ll join the band wagon.

    However, what many people seem to forget is that entering or leaving this country is a privilege. Those crossing any international border anywhere in the world are subject to search. That is a function of both customs and security. There is no “right” to cross a border free from search unless you are carrying something under diplomatic seal.

    By his own words in his blog post, http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=932 , he disobeyed the orders of the border patrol instead choosing to question their motives.

    Cory, you made part of your career out of gaining access to public records. I would like to see the arrest and detention reports published here unedited.

    Additionally, in the post 9/11 world our border crossings are bristling with recorded video cameras. If I remember the rules correctly, that video will also be public record.

    All I’m asking is that the entire story be told. It would trouble me deeply to see some use you and your reputation to complain about a spanking they actually earned.

    1. By the way, your use of the word ‘spanking’ in this context shows how revoltingly biased you are in favor of the authorities. Even the pepper spray alone is much worse than a “spanking.” You disgust me.

    2. There may not be a right to cross a border free from search, but there is a right to cross a border free from arbitrary violence.

    3. I am speechless.

      “A spanking he earned?”

      Even if you stipulate that we have the legal duty to instantaneously jump to obedience when asking legitimate questions of law enforcement, do you honestly, truly, really mean to say that extreme force, imprisonment, and then life-threatening abandonment without adequate clothing in a winter storm is “earned” by a failure to uphold this “duty”?

      And since when is *leaving* a country a privilege?

      If you want Peter’s unedited arrest records, go FOIA them and stick them on the Internet Archive.

      But telling me what I must do, while making high-handed and absurd authoritarian assertions about the right of the police to assault and then abuse people who fail to frog when they say jump, and to compound that with the bizarre assertion that the right to leave a country is, in fact, a privilege, leaves me vastly uninterested in doing your bidding.

      1. “And since when is *leaving* a country a privilege?”

        Used to be that you could get OUT of trouble by promising to go back home across the border.

        Globalization was never meant to serve the people. You can buy $10 mp3 players at the gas station, but don’t leave the country, sir. And don’t get belligerent.

    4. Uplinktruck, you said: “it is my experience that in most cases when someone gets sprayed and smacked down, the person getting that went out of their way to get it.”

      What exactly is your experience? In most of how many cases? This kind of thing happens all the time. There’s video aplenty of cops out of control. It’s not at all hard to believe that Dr. Watts was brutalized for no reason, and that’s the problem. It’s credible. How many people reading this story responded by saying, “Oh, stop it. That doesn’t happen.” Unfortunately no, even before we get the full story we automatically respond with “Oh, my God not again.”

      Insisting on the facts is crucial. It’s also the knee-jerk response of people who don’t want to believe in the direction the world has taken. We live in a world, indeed in a country, where this sort of thing is totally possible, no matter what your experience has been.

    5. You are insane.

      I’m from the Netherlands, and there is no way ever anyway anyhow that any cop ever would mace me if I talked back to him, insulted him or whatever. The worst that would happen is that they would arrest me and offcourse if I started fighting things could happen.

      I used to travel all the time through the U.S. in the 80’ies, but from all that I’ve read over the last couple of years that country is gone.

      People like you that seem to think it’s normal that you have to be really nice and subservient to police, and are not allowed to talk back, are the seem kind of people that cheered on the Nazis in the 1930s because they were all for law and order. That turned out quite nice didn’t it. Fortunately there was then another U.S.A. that did something about it.

      So, Godwins law proven right again.

      1. Don’t believe everything you’ve read. America is still here. But we can’t stop what you’re talking about — a Hitleresgue future — on our own. So that means everybody has to drop the hatred. People think it’s wimpy emo crap to talk about intentionally being kind, dropping provocative language like “You’re insane” or “Listen, asshole,” like it’s too PC and therefore anti-free speech to say hey guys, things are getting pretty fricking ultra-violent around us, maybe we should mellow the freak out and refrain from provocative, pre-emptive, shocking and awful actions and reactions intended to make the other guy understand you are better than he is, whether it’s by your language or by a baton in the face, or by group-think acceptance of ultra-violence. And yeah, it’s spiritual if you believe in God, and if you don’t believe in God then it’s pretty self-evident when you become somebody’s victim or when you get what’s going on via situations like the one Peter has to deal with, people are becoming too violent and WAY too interested in having control over others, and it’s always justified because the controlling group is “superior” to those they control.
        We find these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…
        Don’t you hate the stereotype that haughty Europeans like to point out how and why they are better not by example, but by criticism.? and even though Americans are rude and uneducated like me, I’m assuming you enjoyed letting your hair down a bit here back in the 80s? The music’s gotten better…

  123. Peter needs to answer this:


    “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,”

    And the sooner he does the sooner the trolls can be shut up and the donations being withheld due to ambiguity/uncertainy will come flowing in.

    If he just stood there not getting into his car and did and said nothing and they just launched into him, I’ll donate a healthy sum. But if anything else happened I am sure it will help his case to tell us. Cos I do believe there is a high probability some unwarranted thuggish behaviour (to put it mildly) took place. But until the guards are interviewed or the video gets out Peter is the only one who can shed light.

    1. George,

      The thing is – as Peter has since been warned on his blog and others – he would be advised to say no more about it publicly, because it’s just opening him up to problems later, in court.

      Possibly he has compromised himself already, but hopefully not. Any further clarification of facts for the purposes of public judgement are certainly not going to be of benefit to his case.

      1. arkizzle

        I appreciate that now.

        IANAL but he will presumably be asked to make a legal statement at some point unless he never returns to US.

        So why not swear an affidavit (statement). Be prepared to have it lodged in a court. Publish and be damned.

  124. However, what many people seem to forget is that entering or leaving this country is a privilege.

    Bullshit. We have the right to travel abroad as we wish, and to return when we wish. It may be a privilege for non-citizens like Peter Watts, but for US citizens it is a right.

    By his own words in his blog post, http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=932 , he disobeyed the orders of the border patrol instead choosing to question their motives.

    Bullshit again. He says they refused to answer his question and that they ordered him to get back in his car. You don’t know whether he complied with that order or not. Your assumption that he must have is part of your overall authoritarian apologetic.

    Also, can you give any reason at all to expect that the arrest and detention reports will tell the truth at any point, or be less biased than Peter’s account? I can’t think of one, except a knee-jerk assumption that the cops tell the truth in these reports, which anyone familiar with the real world knows is far from the case.

    The video is something we’d all like to see. My expectation is that it will be suppressed.

    1. Also, can you give any reason at all to expect that the arrest and detention reports will tell the truth at any point, or be less biased than Peter’s account? I can’t think of one, except a knee-jerk assumption that the cops tell the truth in these reports, which anyone familiar with the real world knows is far from the case.

      Sure, that’s easy: arrest reports are regularly submitted as evidence in criminal trials. Hence, there’s a reasonable belief that cops don’t falsify said records: it’s in their self-interest not to do so for legal reasons. Imagine if everything one wrote down could be submitted in a court of law: you’d be pretty careful too.

      I’m still wondering how a bunch of bloggers airing this case will help the defendant: especially the defendant himself.

      Prosecutor: “Do you now believe, or have you ever believed, police officers to be, in the words of your blog post on 11 December 2009, “fuckers”?

      Not a pretty picture.

        1. I never said that police don’t file false arrest reports. I merely said that there’s a reasonable belief, given the penalties involved (perjury, for one), that they don’t. That’s enough for a courtroom: sit on any jury (when you’re not pontificating online, that is) and you’ll see. The burden of proof rests with the defendant to prove that his or her arrest record has been falsified: lacking credible evidence, it’s easy and reasonable to assume that cops won’t perjure themselves. What’s more, there’s nothing to prove your doubt, so where are you? With a vague doubt that cops suck, which almost certainly argues more about you and your opinions RE: cops than with the actual case? I don’t think that’s “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” is it?

          Besides, the weight of precedent would side with the cops, lacking outside evidence to the contrary. Don’t mistake my pointing this out with condoning it. I’m just pointing out that lacking concrete evidence, a “he-said-she-said” scenario will certainly not be weighted in the defendant’s behavior. Try to look at this more objectively, and less rhetorically: that’s what the jury of Watts’s peers will do.

          1. The burden of proof rests with the defendant to prove that his or her arrest record has been falsified

            I guess you’ve never heard of “innocent until proven guilty”, ar have they abolished that already?

          2. What you speak of pertains to the result of the jury trial: the outcome of the jury’s decision whether or not the defendant is guilty. I’m speaking of evidence at trial, which I’d always understood to be seen as fact in the trial, once it’s cleared discovery. I’d argue that the fact that the vast majority of trial evidence isn’t thrown out is proof of my argument: that were cops fraudulently creating arrest reports en masse, there’d be a cadre of lawyers calling them out for it (and making big $$$ for doing so). It’s an adversarial system for a reason, no?

      1. Sure, that’s easy: arrest reports are regularly submitted as evidence in criminal trials. Hence, there’s a reasonable belief that cops don’t falsify said records: it’s in their self-interest not to do so for legal reasons. Imagine if everything one wrote down could be submitted in a court of law: you’d be pretty careful too.

        This has to be the most naive thing I have read all week. What they write down is submitted as evidence so they write down whatever they need to in order to “prove” their version of the events. I think you need to wipe your mama’s milk off your mouth.

        1. What the right down is submitted as evidence so they write down whatever they need to in order to “prove” their version of the events.

          Your proof for that rather sweeping statement?

      2. …arrest reports are regularly submitted as evidence in criminal trials. Hence, there’s a reasonable belief that cops don’t falsify said record

        As someone who spent many years in the legal profession, I can only comment that I’m appalled, er, charmed by your gullibility, er, naïveté. Cops falsify records, DAs withhold exculpatory evidence and juries are more likely to vote in favour of an attractive defendant than an unattractive one. That’s objective fact, proven over and over again.

        1. So good of you to blow your whistle here, then! What, were none of those crimes you witnessed over and over again important, save as rejoinders to an anonymous poster on the Internet? Wow. Are you actually admitting to having witnessed, and perhaps aided, a vast conspiracy to taint the court system? Hope you kept notes!

    2. Leaving this country is a privilege? No it’s not. If we don’t let other citizens of other countries leave we’re kidnapping them. It’s a privilege to enter but leaving should always be free.

  125. I’m not a big fan of Dr. Watts, either as a writer or as a person, but I absolutely believe this. And the fact that I don’t particularly like the guy doesn’t make what happened right.

    Might he have said something obnoxious? I’d certainly believe it. But so what? It doesn’t justify what happened, and last time I checked, the Bill of Rights was still in force.

    I’m not all that far from that crossing. I know what the weather was doing, and to release him under those conditions was… I can’t even come up with the right words.

    I’m ashamed to be an American. I really am.

  126. It’s terrible that this happened, and even at this stage, it’s uncomfortable how easy it is to believe this would happen for no reason.

    Also, um…why do some people keep leaving comments with no vowels in them?

  127. Here’s the other thing; Peter is scrupulously honest, even when it doesn’t look good on him. So I believe his account.

  128. I hope the evidence really is on Peter’s side and the guards who beat him up and wrongly accused him are locked up and stripped of their jobs!

    You must be new here. The fact is that border guards are almost NEVER called to account for their actions (read: “egregious misbehavior”). They can do just about anything they want with little or no provocation…and they’ll all swear on a stack of bibles in court that you did something to justify their actions. US Border guards are very well-known for their propensity to fly off the handle, and for their retaliatory, malicious behavior. It’s also incredibly rare to see them punished or even reprimanded for anything they do.

    For example, I’m American and my wife is Cambodian. She’s been in the US about a year now and has her Green Card, but we’re genuinely afraid to set foot across the US/Canadian border. Our immigration attorney has told us stories about US Customs that sound completely insane, but are all too true. My wife, for example, might not be allowed to come back into the US with me and could end up being made to stay in Canada for months- FOR NO REASON. My attorney’s exact words: “no reason”, at least none that US Customs will give you. If you ask they’ll give you an all-purpose non-answer: “His/her immigration status is under review”. And it could be “under review” for months (or in some cases, years).

    (We successfully fought our way through the State Department, the California Immigration Service Center, the National Visa Center in Vermont, the Department of Homeland Security investigators, the Phnom Penh Police Department and Cambodian Records Center, the Cambodian Emigration Authority, and the United States Embassy in Phnom Penh- but that’s not good enough for US Customs & Border Patrol. She might still be a terrorist, OH NOES!)

    All you idiots who blindly back the Border officers and who can’t/won’t believe that they would ever do anything like this, all I can say is that you people are fools. I don’t know what Peter did or didn’t do, but I don’t doubt for one second that US Customs went ape-shit on him without any actual justification. Their actions are TYPICALLY way out of proportion to what would be considered reasonable.

    Even though I can’t afford to, I’m going to send Peter some money. Every little bit helps. I just hope the crooks at PayPal don’t freeze his account for “suspicious activity” (which they’ve done numerous times, just Google it).

  129. @Xopher: You may be right, and Watts may have provoked the violence. Sometimes smart people do stupid things. And ‘creative types’ often live in a freer personal reality than mere muggles.

    BUT. Police excess is not uncommon at all. I have a friend who is a policeman here in Dallas, TX, and I hear some interesting stories. I am also friends with several firemen and EMTs, and it seems to me that those careers in general attract people who enjoy a certain kind of excitement. Here in Dallas we are treated to a local police ‘brutality’ story about once a month or so.

  130. I’ll be interested in the update to this.

    There have been lots of comments rushing to judgment against Dr Watts, and they’ve been (rightly, I think) shouted down. There’s a corresponding rush to judgment against the border guards- Much of this plea for donations is based on that.

    Is any of this money for his medical bills? Is he in serious, urgent need of money *right now*? The post doesn’t seem to claim any of this.

    My point is this: There is more information that will be coming out, and that information is likely to make us want to donate money. But without that additional information, we’re being asked to donate money on the strength of character references. The only thing I have against that, is it tends to cause compassion fatigue.

    I’m sorry that your friend was hurt, Cory, and I want to see him prevail when (and if!) his day in court comes. But he’ll be better served, I think, if you can dig in for the long term, and build a war chest (and sympathy, and legal expertise) over time as the case develops.

    This has got me thinking about John Adams defending the soldiers of the Boston Massacre. We all sympathize with the appropriate parties, mostly, but what’s important now is what will happen in the courtroom.

    Oh, and did I mention, I’m looking forward to seeing more information about this? As his friend, you have all the information you need to know. He’s not my friend, so I need more.

  131. @Xopher: You may be right, and Watts may have provoked the violence.

    WHAAAAT?!?!?! I think you misattribute that sentiment! I certainly never said, and do not believe, that Peter Watts provoked the violence against him. Who are you looking at and thinking it’s me? Or…what did I say that you could possibly interpret in that fashion?

    1. @Xopher: My apologies, I was responding to uplinktruck’s comment (#198) right above yours.

      “Contrary to what 95% of the people posting here are saying, it is my experience that in most cases when someone gets sprayed and smacked down, the person getting that went out of their way to get it. This is especially true when there are video cameras present.”

  132. I just made a donation.

    In my experience these things are often avoidable, each side provoking the other – until the cops inevitably win. The question is whether Watts provided a belliggerent 50% of the provocation, or an accidental 2%.

    What’s not in question is that like many of us, he can’t afford the legal fight he deserves. That’s why I donated.

  133. I, for one, would like my own personal Oxytocin misting device for interactions with authority figures. Yes, there might be drawbacks, but they’d at least be more likely to be less face-punchy.
    My best wishes for him and his defense. Abuses of power and unjust treatment of others completely offends me and lead to a general unwinding of civilization.

  134. @ uplinktruck

    “However, what many people seem to forget is that entering or leaving this country is a privilege.”

    yeah mate bullshit. it ain’t a privilege for foreigners either. it’s just another idiot bureaucratic pain in the ass. i for one do not consider being allowed to visit the US a privilege. i can afford it so i would. you aint doing me a favor. i would happily pay for my vacation. but if you want to analprobe me while i kiss your ass in order to take my money and thank you for it you are fkin delusional.

    think it this way: the only true american god is the dollar and your stupid coppers are turning customers away.

    also expect similar asshole treatment abroad as a revenge.

  135. There’s a detail I’ve heard in far too many of these stories: the Homeland Security people tell the victims that they can do anything to them, and/or hold them in custody forever.

    What that says is that there’s been far too little oversight and control of these personnel. Whether or not they actually can get away with any amount of abuse, it’s clear that some of them believe they can, and don’t expect they’ll ever be called to account for it. Under those circumstances, abuse will happen.

    I see we’ve got the usual crop of quislings and cowards saying Peter Watts must have done something to provoke the border guards. As usual, they’re coming up with completely unsubstantiated scenarios to explain it, because they don’t want to believe that this is something that could happen to them.

    I laughed out loud when I saw how upset Scratch got at being treated (as he saw it) unjustly — just for mouthing off in an exceptionally stupid way, over and over again! Anton Chigurh was so offensive that commenters who hadn’t intended to donate to the Peter Watts relief fund did so anyway.

    Dishonorable mentions go to xzzy @52, who made a bunch of comments I’ll bet he thinks are deniable. They aren’t. They’re the kind of thing you only say if you think someone is lying. Hawley @56 does his inept best to cast doubt on everyone who says that they’ve been beaten by police. Wardish @92 credits Watts with making provocative statements, though he has no evidence of same. Ablebody @72 does the same thing, saying Watts “got lippy” — a winning use of the language of the abuser. And Diane47 @171 complains that this comment thread disturbs her, so she wants to magic away all the comments that say “Yep, things like that happen to innocent people.”

    Boo, hiss on the lot of them.

    You want a scenario? I can give you one. A border guard asked a question or gave an explanation that Peter Watts thought was stupid, and just for a moment, the border guard could see that reaction in Watts’ facial expression.

    That would be enough to do it.

    1. No, that is not at all what I said or what I implied. I am disturbed by the lack of critical thinking in many of the comments and I listed as examples both the “it MUST be true because something similar happened to ___ ” and “it CAN’T be true because it never happened to me”. Neither statement has anything to do with this particular case.

    2. The only thing I’m saying is I want to hear the story from people who aren’t emotionally involved with the incident. I’ve been around long enough to understand that even the most honest guy stretches the truth when he’s got a bloody nose.

      There’s ~250 comments on this page coming from a bunch of chuckleheads on both sides of the argument, each conjuring up scenarios for “what probably happened”, and it’s just about as sickening as an innocent man getting pummeled by a border cop.

      I think it’s perfectly justified to request an impartial report.

  136. Wait…so he’s crossing INTO Canada right? I think that a few posters have already raised this point, but he’d be dealing with Canadian border guards, not US. Unless he had issues crossing the bridge and got into an altercation with the toll guards. (kidding)

    All kidding aside though, I’m not sure I’m following this.

    I’ve been across there many many times, my parents are Canadian and live just a few hours from there. I’ve had my car torn apart going both ways. Once there, going into Canada, and once coming back into the US near Spokane Washington. Both times sucked and the guards were complete jack@$$e$ looking for any excuse to get hostile.

  137. At my last crossing into the ‘US from Canada (noting that I have a “US Permanent Resident” status that took years and thousands of dollars to acquire).

    Bla bla …
    Guard: I’m trying to understand why you live in the US.
    Me: [Look of confusion]. That’s where my residence is.
    Guard: But you don’t need to live there.
    Me: My wife’s going to be awfully upset if I tell her that.
    Guard: You’re married?
    Me: Yes.
    Guard: Is she a US Citizen?
    Me: Yes.
    Guard: Okay, off you go.
    Me: [thinks WTF? What does me being married to an American have anything to do with me being legally allowed to return home without being hassled by The Man?]

    Note to self: When asked about purpose of visit, always answer “I’m going home to my wife, who’s an American citizen.”

  138. I’m Canadian and always had more trouble getting past Canadian Border officials to get back into my country than getting past American officials to enter the U.S. In fact, in Hyder, Alaska one can cross into the U.S. from Canada with no i.d as there are no border guards. You will have to have i.d. though to get back into Canada!

  139. I sold a story to On Spec (which Peter used to co-edit) earlier this year. I just donated most (currency exchanges are a pain) of my payment towards his defense. It only seems fair.

  140. Depends on who you get as a guard, and not what nationality they are. There are assholes the world over. This is not just an American/Canadian issue; this happens at many border patrols—an uneasy zone between *national alliances* and not, like someone mentioned here, a “turnpike tollbooth.”

    From the sound of things, common sense dictates Mr. Watts provoked what happened. Now ‘provoked’ and ‘justified’ are two different things. What happened to him was in no way justified. But it would be an oversight to classify this as a random, freak anomaly. Watts did not comply with their very serious demands and possibly (in the patrol’s point of view) refused to cooperate. What they did was wrong, of course. But to the contrary, they were not provoked like a hive of mindless automatons. And at many border patrols, US-Canadian or otherwise, this is not uncommon.

  141. Being a michigan resident I’ve dealt with the border guards on several occasions. those people have too much power and they enjoy violating peoples rights and getting away with it. They don’t need provocation to be a-holes. They have the authority to screw with people and beat the shit out of people if they don’t just bend over and take it. That’s why I don’t go to Canada anymore. Be thankful they didn’t tear the car apart and leaveit in pieces or throw Ina strip search for the fun of it to add insult to injury. It’s sad to see authority thouroghly abused so blatantly.

  142. I believe most border stations have video cameras with fairly complete coverage. The video should prove pretty conclusively what transpired. If there are cameras and the video somehow goes missing, the border goons will look pretty bad.

  143. Anyone who doubts that you can be inspected when leaving the US obviously doesn’t have any über-rich friends. The US government goes to some pains to keep people from muling money out of the country. Not a likely problem at Port Huron, but it’s an excuse to harass everybody everywhere.

  144. If this guy had actually assaulted a federal officer, does anyone think they would have let him *go*? And leave the country?? I call bullshit – he’d be sitting in a Michigan jail waiting for his bail hearing. That charge is an intimidation tactic, and nothing more.

  145. Diane, some of the commenters who say they’re afraid to cross the border, and never want to have to do it again, are adjusting to the implications of this story for the first time. They’re not used to thinking of themselves as people who might potentially be subject to the DHS’s “We can do anything to you” attitude. Others who are saying it have a long, up-close history with border crossings, and have a fairly detailed knowledge of how badly the situation has deteriorated since 9/11. In neither case can it be called an insane reaction.

    Some people assume the dice won’t roll that way for them. Others believe they have some control over the situation, and can minimize their own risk. But some people look at it and say, “Sure, the odds are low — but everybody rolls snake eyes sometimes.” It’s their judgement that the risk isn’t worth whatever’s on the other side of that border.

  146. Is any of this money for his medical bills? Is he in serious, urgent need of money *right now*? The post doesn’t seem to claim any of this.

    Since he’s in Canada, he doesn’t need money for his medical bills. They pay their medical bills with taxes, there. In the States we use our taxes to pay for violence against foreigners, among other things (not just Canadians driving rental cars across the border – Afghans in their own country going to weddings also receive services from our government.)

  147. sounds like we need a few people to go through that border crossing with concealed cameras running. When you’ve got it on video, it’s very hard for the next thugs up the food chain to pretend it didn’t happen.

    1. sounds like we need a few people to go through that border crossing with concealed cameras running.

      What we really need is a law mandating that all border patrol interactions be filmed from at least 2 angles, with the film made public if the person(s) the border patrol is interacting with request it.

      There is no reason that in 2009 there should be speculation and he said/she said debate over what our public servants are doing.

  148. Argh. Throughout this thread I’ve been saying DSA when I mean DHS! The Democratic Socialists of America have NO jackbooted thugs. Mea stupida culpa.

  149. It might be good to suspend judgement when all else is equal, but in this case it’s not. I promise you the TSA will not wait until the border guards are completely vindicated before it rushes to defend them. And if they aren’t, I don’t see them volunteering that information.

    Given that, why criticize how quick Watt’s friends are to rush to his defense? Even if he did something wrong, which I find very hard to believe, he’d still be the one who needs help to get a fair trial of it.

  150. As soon as I read “Michigan” my very first thought was that there was about a 1,000% chance this was the Port Huron/Saginaw border crossing.

    Since 2001 I’ve crossed the US/Canadian border perhaps 5 or 6 dozen times. I always drive the extra distance to cross over in Detroit/Windsor if I’m in that neighborhood. This is exactly why. I would wager that those are the absolute worst people working in Border security – on both sides.

  151. I am officially calling shenanigans.

    – No more comments about other commenters.
    – No more repeating what other commenters have said.

  152. In many countries, perhaps including Canada, getting out of the car on your own accord during a police stop is perfectly normal.

    In the US, it is not. Cops consider it aggressive behavior, and they will certainly put their hand on their gun, if not draw it. Border guards are probably even more geared to this way of thinking.

    Now, ask them a question or two after getting out of your car “unprovoked”, and the cops will basically assume you’re high on PCP and have the strength and restraint of a pack of wild dogs. You will most likely do face time with the pavement.

    1. Yeah, and we’re getting more and more news about police using their tasers on 10-year-olds, pregnant women, old ladies, NOT OKAY. They are extremely poorly trained and are not being given the full support of technology that ought to be available to them if in fact they are that sure anybody on the street is going to attack them and that stressfully trigger-happy or baton happy or cuff happy or whatever they end up doing that violates the human rights of any “suspect,” guilty or not. The terrorists are few, it is not okay to treat everyone as though they are a terrorist, WE ARE NOT ALL SUSPECTS. WE ARE NOT ALL DEFENDANTS. Remember the phrase “We the People?” That’s us. Okay, this guy is Canadian. But I still think they knew exactly who he was before they even stopped the car.

  153. This is far more common than one may think.

    I myself experienced something very similar. I was beaten severely and charged with battery of a law enforcement officer, a felony, and resisting arrest with violence, also a felony.

    This was because I shielded my face from their fists, and because my hands came in contact with them (their fist) and a punch to my mouth caused my teeth to come in contact with them (their fist).

    The reason for the encounter was I had taken an anti anxiety medicine which caused a very bad reaction and I essentially became incoherent in public. When I couldn’t comply with their instructions due to my state, they began attacking me. Once I was under assault I still couldn’t comply, so they continued the attack. When taken to jail I was further assaulted in the jail by the guards because my charges were related to battery on a law enforcement officer.

    The state wanted to not file the charges because I had never been in trouble for anything in my life and I am a very upstanding member of my community, well educated, and have a high profile position. The officers however refused and pushed the case for nearly a year.

    Finally, after I had spent the year doing various acts of obvious contrition and the implications of a felony (if you make a plea deal it’s an adjudication without guilt, but counts as a conviction so you are a felon) on my family and my career, and the extreme mitigating circumstances of the case, I was given the opportunity to have the charges dropped if I agree to a year of parole (which is fine because I’m not a criminal) and writing letters of apology to the officers who beat me, and paying a not insubstantial amount of money. My legal fees were also substantial. Fortunately my employer decided to not let me go, and I am slowly reassembling my life.

    I was advised to not follow up against the officers for their brutality because the state would turn against me and vigorously prosecute me. My lawyer advised me that the charge inflation is very common when officers behave inappropriately because it shields them from legal retaliation because the victims are scared of lengthy imprisonment due to the stupendous charges leveled. Further, judges tend to side with the police and the state.

    Finally some “crimes” are crimes regardless of your intent or state – just the action alone is sufficient – so if you don’t contest you placed your hands in the way of their punch then you are in fact guilty of battery, unless you can demonstrate clearly and with proof you were fearful for your life and the aggression against you was unwarranted (this is your burden to prove positively, and it is apparently very very hard to do these days).

    The police industrial complex in the US along with the idea that police officers are universally heroes and we laud them for bravery and excuse their behavior on the basis of the charges they level against people, all the while inflating all possible charges to felony status without regard to the idea we are criminalizing our populous and giving a group the unmitigated right to exercise violence against us given minimal provocation.

    “Tough on crime” and the police-authoritarian worship culture we have created has created a hideous police state where any one of us can be turned into a criminal for very normal human behavior and autonomous functions – such as shielding your face as your are punched.

  154. Have scratch’s comments been made illegible on purpose? Or have you guys been decyphering that alphabet soup?

  155. It seems no one has mentioned this: The chair of the Homeland Security Commitee is Joseph Lieberman. If you’re angry, speak up.

  156. Xopher: Count myself among your internet friends should you ever come down to Texas again. I know I can speak for Wolfiesma as well on this, that you’ll have a 180 degree different reception and a place to stay in Austin should you venture down here for a visit again. =D

    Teresa: It’s great to see you in action again! =D+

    1. I meant no disparagement of Texas! I was visiting friends when I was there (Houston), and had a very nice reception, and got no trouble from anyone.

      Houston has a startlingly different culture than New York. I didn’t intend to imply “New York good, Texas bad.” Remember I’m a northeastern liberal; we’re all about the cultural relativism! :-)

      All that said, I certainly WILL count you among my internet friends and may, someday, take you up on your kind offer.

  157. For a nation that claims to oppose communist states (and has fought fierce wars over that notion), the US sure seems to be attacking intellectuals a lot these days. That is the argument against communism, is it not? That intellectuals are disgraced and disposed of, free speech is denied, careers are destroyed, “for the good of the people” a strict censorship is imposed, by force. Those officers have sworn an Oath. I wonder to what, and to whom? What have you been writing about lately, Peter? Be careful…
    “There is no greater catastrophe than to underestimate the enemy” — Lau Tsu, Tao Te Ching
    You are not the only one, it’s not just happening at the borders, and I pray to God this ends well for you — and everybody, pray to God this ends in America here and now. NOT ON MY WATCH.

  158. actually even entering a country is not a privilege. a privilege is something extraordinary meant only for those who deserve it.

    – passport please?

    – here sir

    – anything to declare?

    – nop

    – goodnight sir and enjoy your stay

    – thank you, goodnight to you.

    has this simple dialogue become science fiction? and why? between canada and the us? i could understand some difficulties traveling between russia and china but seriously WTF? being left with a t-shirt in canada during the winter? if true this alone should get these border cops under investigation for attempted murder and criminal negligence.

    since when passing a random check point without being harassed or interrogated has become a prize meant only for the worthy? and at what amounts this worth i should achieve to be good enough to visit the land of the brave without being harassed?

    if a traveler has done nothing illegal crossing borders should be a bureaucratic hassle not a personality test.

    1. In the US certain things are considered privileges, in that they don’t have the protected status of rights, and can be taken away relatively easily. Voting is a right; it can only be taken away from felons, essentially. Driving is a privilege; you can lose your driver’s license permanently for a SINGLE instance of trying to drink underage in many states, especially if you doctored your license to do it.

      ‘Privilege’ isn’t used to mean a special honor in legal discussions, nor has it been in this thread. The US doesn’t have to let non-citizens in if they don’t like them, and can kick them out for any reason without convicting them of a crime or even accusing them of one. That makes entering the country, for a non-citizen, a privilege in the legal sense.

      I agree that it should be a hell of a lot easier. We’re trying. Just be glad this dumbass country didn’t elect that idiot John McCain; we’d have border fences a mile high!

  159. Hi. I am a North Eastern Michigan Border Patrol/ “Peace Officer”. I have a badge and I carry a gun. Last night an individual that my older brother says resembles the physical presence and snarky manner reminiscent of the Police’s Stewart Copeland tried to rush us with all his might. So me and my buddies did what we had to do, we threw down man.

    There is no excuse in any way that allows for such unmitigated cowardice and obvious bullying.

  160. This certainly wasn’t the change we were expecting.

    I’ve been amazed for years now that the US has *any* foreign tourism industry left. The risk to foreigner’s personal liberty and property by daring to even transit through the US has become so great that I can’t believe anyone goes there voluntarily, to relax! Which is tragic as once you get past the border madness the place is full of the friendliest and most welcoming people you’ll ever meet and has many of the most beautiful places on the face of the planet.

    Frankly it’s become a toss-up – is it riskier to visit the pyramids in Egypt or Yellowstone National Park in the USA?

  161. I think the best way to support Peter in this is to buy his books through Amazon.

    This helps him in several ways.

    One, it provides him funds.

    Two, it increases his chances of being published again.

    Three, it increases his ranking on Amazon lists, making his books more broadly exposed and advertised, resulting in further bolstering of his sales.

    Four, a spike in interest in his books would provide a public and wide reaching “vote” for him in this case, much more so than in the hot house of special interest sites.

  162. This isn’t something which is happening only at border crossings, or only in Amerika, or only to medium-famous SF writers. I’m an organizer with the Ottawa Panhandlers’ Union (look us up on Wikipedia) and I can tell you that Peter Watts’ experience is business as usual for people on the street right here in Kanada. We had to shut down the police station with the help of angry street kids — twice — just to get a cop off the street who spent his nights beating street youth up in empty parking lots.

    Peter Watts is lucky that he has some degree of notoriety to help garner support for this outrageous abuse of his liberties. But spare a thought for those of us who deal with this kind of gross injustice on a daily basis right in your own neighbourhoods.

    Andrew Nellis,
    Spokesperson, Ottawa Panhandlers’ Union
    OttawaPanhandlersUnion – at – sympatico.ca

  163. Yes, he did several things that upset the border thugs. The first one was that he looked suspicious enough that they wanted to search his car – maybe it was green (like marijuana or ecologists) or was deliberately not green (like somebody hiding their marijuana) or the license plate ended in a randomized digit or one of those other clear signs of smuggling. And then the obviously already suspicious drug-hidin’ tree-huggin’ UnAmerican driver got out of the car before they’d ordered him to – which can be scary to real cops stopping some random person on a road, but shouldn’t be as much of an issue to border-guards. Regular cops often use aggression to cover up their fear, not only because it makes them feel better but because it reduces the chances that they’ll get hurt if somebody doesn’t like cops.

    And of course he not only asked questions, but he was *right*, and that simply won’t do.

  164. still would love to find out why Homeland Security is involved in someone leaving the country. They should have nothing to do with it. It should just be the Canadian crowd, who I feel a little safer with. Why safer? I’ve been asked inside both ways (dunno why but sometimes it’s just random) and while I saw guns on the hips of every single person in the US office no gun was seen in the Canadian one (presumably they are there they just don’t feel the same imminent threat). Makes for a different attitude I think.

  165. it seems to me that, in the 20th century, even criminals were not beaten.
    I would prefer to live in a world where authorities did not give out beatings.

      1. oh. d’oh. New to Boing Boing, never saw this type of reply, generally see them directly after the post…

        whatever. the point is that within the US we are in a cultural crisis, a crisis of hostility and frankly, a crisis of hatred. and, a la Lao Tsu, don’t underestimate it, don’t underestimate the surveillance technology either, don’t underestimate the power of probable cause once you’re in the radar and don’t underestimate how far they will crawl up your ars, no joke. No joke at all. Don’t underestimate the depth of the crisis. Our Constitution has “void where prohibited” stamped on every page. And poor Peter’s not even a citizen. Let’s hope, Oh Canada, you can protect your own.

  166. Apologies if someone has already addressed this – I didn’t have time to read through all 322 posts:

    There’s a common thread in what happened to Dr. Watts and other unnecessary beatings of mere “civilians” by JBTs. When a LEO thug begins beating the crap out of you – for no reason (which happens quite often) – and you raise your had to defend your teeth from being knocked outta your head, you are charged with resisting. The Taser-torture crazy thugs who utilize Tasers as “compliance tools” instead of a less-than-lethal defensive tool almost always charge the person who was tased with resisting arrest or assaulting an officer. After all, they’re not supposed to use a Taser to induce the type of fascist, groveling compliance that they insist on from mere civilians.

    For future reference, to avoid being charged with a felony, you must take your beating and not attempt to fend off a blow. Otherwise you’re “assaulting” an officer. Oh and don’t ever say anything other than “yessir” or “yesmam,” and don’t use words containing more than two syllables. It torks off the goons who are keeping us all safe.

  167. Gringa, Xopher is a very mellow guy. Peter Watts is not someone who assaults police officers. I’m sure we’ll all make nice when we have to cross the border. But here, in this discussion, we don’t have to pretend we’re not angry.

    In other news:

    A Port Huron has reported the story, which they appear to have gotten from the police report.

    1. first comments from the above newspaper:

      Who knows what really happened here… the fact is he should have listened to the officers, and none of this would have happened. I never get it when people try to resist arrest or not follow an officers order, even if you don’t think you did anything wrong, you just make the situation worse. Not following a DHS employee’s orders is not a smart idea.

      He was probably wet from them trying to get the pepper spray off his face. The reason he was half naked was probably due to the struggle and got his clothes ripped. What legal rights do people have at the border?? None……..well maybe a little, but not much. That area before you are let into the US and after you commit to going to Canada are pretty much no man’s land.

      Sounds like the “Stephen King wannabe” had a hissy fit! It also sounds like the border patrol officer knew how to deal with Canadians having tantrums.

      this is why these goons do what they do. they have peoples support. sad.

  168. I have forwarded this to Anderson Cooper at CNN and Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, in the hopes of catching the attention of someone in the mainstream media.

  169. Article XI in the USA’s Constitution has always offended me. But it might point out to the USA’s Law officials that this Canadian Citizen is from a country that even the President of the United states has no power over.
    Might be able to use as a technicality.
    also since the USA referees to it’s citizens as “Americans” which they should not do because it actually refers to anyone born to either North or South America. This might also raise a technicality.
    you may want to approach the Organisation of American States (http://www.oas.org), since the USA is a member country and I’m sure that many of the other contrys in the Organisation have had similar issues with the USA’s Border Guards.
    I know that the US Border Guards requirements are a Bachelors degree, then 4 years of police duty and 4 years of Military duties. These Guards are supposed to be the Cream of the Crop and should know better. The same Border Guards who get sent to the Mexican side also get sent to the Canadian side, with I believe no digression on the political difference between Mexico and Canada. I do know of once instance in the late 1980’s. or the early 1990’s where RCMP officers after detaining a US Citizen to was reported by the US Troopers for robbing a bank and illegally crossing the Peace Arch Border in British Columbia/Washington. The perusing US Police also tried to cross the border without permission. This came to a near gun fight between the Canadian RCMP for defending the sovereignty of Canada from the US Police for presuming they had the right to Police in a foreign land.

    I hope some of this information can help your case.
    Please feel free to contact me if you need any more information or references to USA / Canada disputes.
    I am an ex-serviceman from the Canadian Military.
    And a loyal VCON fan.

    1. Um, the U.S. constitution doesn’t have an Article XI.

      The link you are providing is to Article XI of the Articles of Confederation that was only in effect from 1781 until ratification of the Constitution in 1788. Article XI was basically an invitation to Canada to join the confederation the lower colonies. The invitation expired in 1788 but if you have change your minds, have Harper talk to Obama. We won’t tell the Queen if you don’t!

  170. Tell Peter to SUBPOENA THE SURVEILLANCE TAPES! There are almost certainly video cameras everywhere, and the incident was almost certainly recorded. He should subpoena the tapes NOW, before they get overwritten or “lost”.

  171. I realized just how bad the US border guards were when I came back from a brief visit to Mexico. My friend Matt and I had no problems, because we were white. Everyone who was a slightly darker shade got no end of patronizing, racist grief from a group of complete assholes who never should have been given ANY position in government.

    The US Border Patrol is a serious embarrassment to our country, and a blight upon our borders. Such behavior is inexcusable anywhere, to see it perpetrated by government employees in the course of their jobs is obcene!

  172. Look at it like this. This guy is probably pretty sensible, he wouldn’t go and hit a US federal officer unless the officer hit first, it’s a case of small man syndrome: “You challenge my authority and I will smash you.”

  173. The US border cops at the US/CA border are the worse. Complete dickheads. The ones on the Canadian side are rational beings with no chip on their shoulders. But the ones on the US side are complete assholes.

    I was stopped and searched, and made to wait about 2-3 hours simply because I didn’t understand the officers instructions – it was ridiculous.

    I’m sure Mr. Watts is innocent.

  174. Ugh. Already saw the Port Huron remarks. The whole “There’s a formula to not getting the shit beaten out of you by authority figures” mentality is driving me crazy. It feels like the same class of rhetoric that tells women there’s a formula for not being abused by hubby or raped. Just don’t drive at night/drink/make him feel unimportant/not cater to their every whim/get out of the car/raise your voice.

  175. We’re finally getting the government’s side of the story.

    “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.”

    That pretty much lines up with what I expected. My guess: he was unhappy with the search, he didn’t get back into his vehicle immediately, so they grabbed him and then choose to interpret a normal human flinch reaction to being grabbed to be handcuffed as resisting arrest and pepper-sprayed him.

    Since the beginning, I’ve been comfortable taking sides because the level of force described is completely disproportional and unacceptable regardless of provocation short of pulling a weapon. This police report confirms my belief.

    I was going to call my congressional representatives this evening, but as others have pointed out, waiting until Monday is probably going to be more effective.

  176. There are hundreds of comments on here already, so I don’t know if anyone has posted these links yet. TSA, also known as airport security, are admittedly not customes officers – but they are supposed to be part of the same “homeland security” network.

    There is a website titled HLSWatch.com where two articles have been presented – a report and a followup – written by a former police officer with 24 years’ experience before her retirement. Her reports detail the utter lack of training that appears to be given to TSA staff on the correct way to perform searches, correct way to randomize these searches, correct way to collect data. TSA staff also appear to be completely unaware of citizens’ rights to refuse these searches.

    Her observations are enlightening, to say the least.




  177. Being an American who has just ventured out of the country for the first time, I’m pleasantly surprised that there are freer countries than the U.S. I passed through customs in China without a glance or unusual question. I enter Thailand as though I was a local. I stopped at a few official looking posts to query about restrictions for entering the country, I got laughed at when I applied for a visa (Americans and a few hundred other nationalities don’t need visas). The only problems I had were in the U.S.-in Chicago a police officer rousted me for eating a burger in front of McDonald’s–asked me what I was doing there, apparently the bag leaning on my leg wasn’t a clue. Told me to leave the concourse as there were dignitaries arriving. Advised her that I had just been speaking with Tom Coburn, my senator from OK, she was not amused. On my return I did get some odd questions from the customs agent, again in Chicago. Coincidentally I spoke with my other senator from OK, Inhofe while awaiting my flight back to Tulsa (there are far worse senators than Coburn, I doubt that there are any worse than Inhofe).

    My point is that America is not the bastion of freedom that we are led to believe it is. Even China is more user friendly than the U.S., at least in my 3 hours there it was. Thailand is what Americans wish we were in many ways.

    Good luck, Peter.

  178. Thanks for writing this, Cory, and it’s great to see the response.

    Comment #228 recommended: “When asked about purpose of visit, always answer “I’m going home to my wife, who’s an American citizen.” That can be a bad move, too, as this triggered quite an interrogation I witnessed, where the guy was bullied to say that his marriage was only to get a US passport, and when that didn’t work, a green card. In the end, the official had to give up, but not without writing into the first page of a new British passport “Purpose of visit: to visit mother-in-law.”

    And comment #93 is particularly true: “If there’s any advantage to growing up poor, it’s knowing from an early age that the police will beat you up if they don’t like you, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. They will also charge you with offences you didn’t commit, and when you go to court the judge will take the policeman’s word over yours.”

    The universal law is: If a government official is in a mood to cause trouble, that trouble will always be provided. And this is true for officeholes in all countries. Public servant or servant public?

  179. Swore off surface visits to the US in 2001 after some Gestapo-like behavior by the border guards in rural Washington. Never had cause to regret my decision. Stew in your own juices for a lifetime if necessary. I’m not going back.

  180. One thing that Boarder Guards of all countries forget or they don’t make the logical conclusion: Individuals that have serious intentions of committing terrorist acts in any country are most likely to be subservient to their authority. A terrorist’s objective isn’t to provoke suspicion but nullify it. Being overly aggressive to the belligerent is a “net” more likely to catch the difficult but innocent rather than the potentially guilty.
    I imagine them using belligerent, anti-authoritarian world citizens as pawns, especially those who have no knowledge of such nefarious plans.

  181. He is tall? well, there is your answer right there. He obviously threatened the border authority’s ‘authoritay’ causing said border authority to react in the only sensible manner. In my experience as a tall person, tall person + short, frustrated, aggressive (for whatever reason…) person = misunderstanding + bruises on tall person’s body. Pity that.

    So it goes….

    1. Is he tall? Yeah, Peter Watts is a tall fellow. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a con and I was struck at his height. I’d estimate he’s around 6’6″ but would not be surprised if that number were higher.

      Others have commented that the Border Officers may have found his size intimidating. Perhaps that was all they needed.

  182. I’m not surprised by Dr. Watts’ situation. About 15 years ago, I was crossing the border from Canada back into the US with my then girlfriend (now wife). We’d had a nice trip to Niagara Falls, lived in Michigan, and didn’t expect any trouble. The Canadians were unfailingly pleasant, as usual, but the US border guard was horrible. He mumbled something into his booth, and I nicely said “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear your question”. He snarled back, “What is your citizenship!”. I said “We’re US citizens.” He then looked at my girlfriend and said “what’s her citizenship?” I said, “She’s a US citizen too”. He said, “I wasn’t asking you!” She then told him she was a US citizen. At that point he said “GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” I sat and stared at him in shock, then pulled the car over to the main building, went inside and complained about his behavior. I got the distinct impression from the man’s boss that he wasn’t bothered by his behavior and wasn’t going to do anything about it.

    This was the welcome home that two US citizens got pre-9/11 coming back into the US. I can’t imagine how they act under different circumstances.

  183. So, get this story to all the news agencies, in Canada at least, and launch a letter-writing campaign to your MP and MPP. It’s bad enough that they routinely violate the civil rights of their own citizens, but it is crossing another line entirely when they attack foreign nationals. The only way to stop this is to bring pressure to bear at the highest levels, and the only way to do that is make it as public a spectacle as possible. Embarrass the current administration into bringing about much needed corrections to what has become an unconstitutional police state. This may also harm tourism, creating additional internal pressure to change their practices and attitudes.

  184. After having been harassed by Canadian border guards starting holiday to the north (them saying my license had traces of / had been in contact with drugs) and vehicles searched stem to stern re-entering my own country, knowing folks who ‘fit the profile’ and always got searched coming home — I am very sad to say I’m not astonished that something like this can and does happen. I am ashamed it occurred now, under the administration of a president I voted for. Though I’ve also been astonished on the many positions this administration has determined to not change from the previous one.

    As a citizen of these not-well United States, my sincere apology to Dr. Watts for this injustice and I hope someone in the current administration has enough sense to sort out the matter without additional duress to him and to address how we treat visitors on entry or exit.

  185. i liked the anonymous comment rhetorically asking “at what point _are_ we allowed to question [authority]”??

    i have been assaulted by cops and given an aggrovated assault on a police officer charge. If i had not actually punched back and just let them pummel me, i think they would have kept on throwing punches and pepper spray until i would have died. Realizing this during an out-of-body experience in the the police scuffle i was in, i had to defend my life. without throwing a punch, they would have no crime to arrest me with. I have severe PTSD from this experience…

    the aggro on a cop felony is 2-20 years. its definitely a serious offense, but “serious” only reflects the level of imposed fear by the “system”. fortunately for me i did get a plea offer down to a simple assault. Hopefully Mr. Watts is able to get a similar deal. But justice will not be served, of course.

    Since we’ve neglected to take proper steps as a society to question the relevant authority of government officials, no matter what nation they represent, I suspect the only way to fight back against the thugs in uniform is to ignore their court system. Don’t show up. Don’t recognize the USA as any valid authority. Its not even a country anymore (its a bankrupt corporation of France since 1934). Questioning Authority has less merit these days than ever before, so perhaps we need to remove our perceptions about who actually has it. I don’t recognize any thug with a badge and a gun as a relevant authority in my life; he is the antithesis of freedom, so fck him and all the unconstitutional laws he represents. fck th .s..

  186. I moved to Canada from the US 11 years ago. I crossed the border in Detroit and had to stop there to get a work permit issued under a NAFTA allowance. The two young female agents working my case decided it would be hilarious to deny me a work permit because of the one single piece of paper they were claiming I needed but did not have (my college diploma). Even though I had my transcript which showed a diploma was issued they demanded to see the actual diploma itself. Hey ladies, no problem, I’ll just enter Canada on a regular visitor visa like everyone else and drive to Toronto and get it, since it was already delivered there by the moving company. No sir, sorry, now that you’ve declared your intention to work in Canada we cannot let you enter the country (funny, you can’t work without a work permit so I don’t see how my declaring I’m planning to work makes any difference). Can I see a supervisor? Nope, get your ass back across the border before we throw you in jail. Luckily for me, I had a connection in Canada who knew someone fairly high up at immigration at the Detroit/Windsor border who just happened to be working the night shift that night at the tunnel (I tried to cross at the bridge). I ended up going over there instead, got my work permit issued, was told heads would roll, etc… I then spent the next *6* years being screwed with every single time I came back into Canada after leaving the country. Harrassed, threatened, abused, sent into long lines, no explanations ever given, nothing. Finally, after years of this, I ended up getting an agent at the airport on a return trip who listened to my tale of years of woe and decided to investigate further after my fervent denials that I had said anything to offend the agent working the immigration desk that would get me sent into the special line. Low and behold, the two female agents who decided to game me years earlier had gone into my immigration file, flagged it with some code, and made some notes in there that ensured every single time I crossed the border I ended up getting harassed. The agent “fixed” my file and, what do you know, I’ve never been harassed at the border since (in either direction). I tell this story for two reasons: First, let me tell you with certainty that Canadian immigration/border agents are just as big of dicks as US immigration/border agents. Second, the systems set up to control immigration are designed to specifically allow these agents to screw with you when they want, how they want and for whatever reason they want. Blame the agents for what happens in situation like mine and what happened to Mr. Watts, but until we get some mechanisms in place to take away some of the abusive authority these people have nobody should be remotely surprised when things like this happen. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  187. You have 24 hours to order the video records preserved, after that they will be erased.

    The failure to preserve evidence after pressing charges may suggest a cover-up and should certainly be enough to throw the case out, but incompetence can excuse a cover-up and the USA will push forward anyway.

    The absence of any videos at all indicates a gross violation of SOP, policy and training, and suggests a premeditated attack by the officers.

    Good luck.

  188. I cross almost every weekend. Canada is unfailingly polite and gentle. And when my Canadian fiancee crosses back into her country with me, they always say “welcome home.”

    Contrast that with my own country, where she is terrified of visiting because they take it as a personal mission to uncover any wrongdoing this 5’1, 100 pound girl might be up to, before telling her she isn’t welcome in America because she might be sneaking in to stay. This has been going on for YEARS, and there’s a reason that I go there far more than she comes here.

    The border is the public face of the United States, and it is an ugly, hateful one.

    1. >The border is the public face of the United States, and it is an ugly, hateful one.

      well, to be fair, he was leaving. so it’s more like the public arse of the united states. which would seem appropriate.

  189. It sounds bad. In fact, it sounds awful. Without having been there, I can’t speak to what really happened, but I will say that if Dr. Watts’ statements are 100% factual – and I have no reason to doubt that they are – then this is a shameful abrogation of duty, responsibility and honor on the part of those charged with protecting _our_ borders. I cross into Canada often enough to know that it would be an unpleasant experience for a saint: both going and coming, I always feel somewhat tainted, as though I were being looked upon as a suspected pedophile, or drug smuggler. Once on a trip with my youngest son to visit relatives in Winnipeg, I was almost detained because I didn’t have a letter from my spouse indicating that I had permission to take a minor child across the border. So there’s bullhqiz on both sides of the border. What happened to Dr. Watts, however, should not have happened to a dog. These men shamed their badges, their offices, and their country with this total disregard for human decency.

  190. Easily the most ignorant power trip jackasses I have ever encountered. They are angry misinformed losers. I have crossed many times also, at various locations, and they are vile george bush inspired redneck bullies.
    You cannot win against them. Dont ever argue, question etc…you will be turned around, beaten or arrested.
    They are liars and idiots.

  191. Similar happened to me in New Orleans, though years ago and it wasn’t the DHS, but Orleans Parish law enforcement.

    I’m not sure of what regulations apply to DHS officers, but there’s a good chance that the officer(s) involved might not show up in court, and if they don’t, I believe the charges would then be dropped and bail/bond refunded in full (again, that’s how it went for me in New Orleans).

    That doesn’t help NOW, I know, but it’s at least something to hope for (unless DHS has completely different laws from the rest of the country).

    This sort of thing makes me ashamed to be an American.

    ~TC Blue

  192. For all the police corruption, thuggery and bullying, cover-ups and set-ups ubiquitous in this cruel and unfair wide world, sometimes – maybe once or twice every few years, if even- justice is rightfully served.

    But, clearly, this is not one of those cases. Impossible.

  193. No tape of this at the border?

    Training problem? Possibly.

    If these police were thugs they will be prosecuted for their actions as are other criminals. Right?

  194. I’m not so sure this was a random incident.

    Remember what happened to Amy Goodman a week ago?

    US Imperial Command has a database that could be a target list. The framing of assault charges could be the tactic to neutralize potential dissidents.

    The overlords want everybody guilty of something: drugs, porn, speeding, any excuse to incarcerate or impoverish through legalistic harassment.

  195. Embarassing.
    I’m American, and have visited Canada only once. I made the mistake of relying on old information (an outdated website) that said I needed no passport to enter, just a valid driver’s license.
    Needless to say, there were some problems at customs/immigration.

    I was subjected to a thorough search of my luggage, and about thirty minutes of questioning, but the long-&-short of it… the personnel at the Ottawa airport were sympathetic, professional, and I was allowed to take my vacation (conditional on carrying a document stating that I’d neither seek work nor apply for schools while in Canada, and that I’d check out with immigration before my departure flight).

    After such gracious treatment at the hands of the Canadians, I’m embarrassed to hear of something like this from my own countrymen. I hope Mr. Watts recovers fully, wins his case, and is awarded a generous settlement for his troubles.

  196. Cops level the charge of assaulting an officer to cover their asses against brutality. They think it protects them against civil or criminal lawsuits. Photograph the injuries. Demand a receipt for every item seized and held by the arresting officers. Demand copies of all reports and the names and badge numbers of all officers involved and on duty at the time of the arrest. Most radio traffic is taped, so demand on discovery copies of all tape or digital voice and radio traffic recordings at the time of the arrest. Were there security cameras in place? I’ll bet there were. Demand copies of ALL of those recordings as well. Then, file a Civil Rights complaint with the FBI against all of the officers and their command officers. Keep hitting the news media with this story. Don’t let it die. Get photos of the arresting officers and make them public.

  197. Wonder if Maker Faire Detroit – July 31/August 1 – could suggest to the Detroit community that being visitor friendly (in a wider area to the north as well of course) is good for the local economy and not being visitor friendly will be bad for the local economy?

  198. The border guards on the Canada-US border will continue to escalate their violent and aggressive actions against citizens of both nations until we take a collective stand. But we won’t. Because we’re sheep. And since we’re sheeple, the less-sheep-like among us continue to be eaten by the wolves. But if we stood together, we could defeat the wolf.

    But this is a fight we’re all too scared to show up for.

    For two nations that have stared down the face of discrimination, violence against women, and so many abuses of power, it’s clear that we can find solutions to almost any problem we set our minds to solving. But we won’t. Because we’d have to work together, in unity. And we won’t. So this will continue, with no end in sight.

    Though we’re all sheep, and though the border guards will be able to continue to violate the civil and human rights of anyone they please (unless he or she is a CEO or otherwise rich), and though none among us is going to grow a pair overnight, the least us sheeple can do is write our elected and unelected representatives and to write David Jacobson, the current United States Ambassador to Canada.

    I’m going to. But if I’m the only one, this idea dies with me.

  199. This is why I’ve given up on America. I used to be the most patriotic, true blue American you could imagine but the last twenty years have made me want to just get the hell out of here.

    1. and go where? Switzerland is looking a bit control-freak paranoid these days, in France writers and peace activists are being raided and jailed for writing “anti-consumer” pieces and attending rallies (terrorists), England is staring at its own navel spying on everybody and collecting data on everybody that would give you the creeps to think about how and why they got it, there’s this weird Mexican cult drug cartel “family” and all the other weird “families” out there, witch hunts and pirates in Africa, Latin America is sucker punched by Honduras and becoming a black-op magnet for its left-leaning voters and political leaders, China has its Great Wall so we have no idea what’s happening there, and Canada just stopped an extremist democracy advocate to decide what she can and cannot say, where ya gonna go? A great American once said that no one is free until we all are free, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Too many great people have worked hard to get us this far, think I’ll stay and stand up for what’s right, right here.
      But it’s true, a lot of Americans are really borish and stupid. My favorite bumper sticker: “I love my country, but I think it’s time we started seeing other people.”

  200. Although indignation toward Dr. Watt’s experience is appropriate, I think many of the judgments here regarding police in the USA , both anti and pro, are pretty extreme and a little juvenile.

    I’ve visited a few other countries and lived south of the border in Mexico for a while. Police in many countries around the world are to be straight-out feared. In Mexico I would have never called the police unless forced to do so. Police there are expected to be corrupt and generally unaccountable. Street cops regularly scam foreigners. You can be held in jail more or less for ransom. Federal police can literally get away with murder.

    Here in the USA, the police are generally trusted, provide invaluable service to the community, and put themselves at great personal risk for rather small compensation.

    That being said, the career of policing, like the military, draws aggressive types, and they often aren’t all that well educated. The position and power are easily abused, and sometimes are. Frequency of abuse doesn’t change its gravity, but to judge the whole from a minority of its parts is a logical fallacy. And I’d expect the BoingBoing crowd to be a little more familiar with rational thinking, nerds that they like to be.

    If anything the police in the USA are slowly growing in quality. Transparency and accountability are increasing, racism is no longer tolerated for the most part, and evidentiary standards are improving. 9/11 was a traumatic event with understandable, though regrettable, right-wing backlash. Hopefully with time the overall curve will remain positive.

    But if cars came with watching-the-watchers vid cams installed, I’d buy one.

  201. I don’t have any money to donate, but I’ve been spreading this thing around the net as much as I can as so far, it’s being Twittered about a lot. I hope it helps.

  202. Next time you hear someone sing this:

    > Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
    > O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

    Answer the question. The answer is no, on both counts.

  203. This will not endear me to most of you, but when a badged person says to get back in the car, you comply. In the States, you MUST comply IMMEDIATELY to a direct request from a law enforcement officer, REGARDLESS of how unfair you’re making him or her out to be at the time. Dr. Watts should have got right back in his car, post haste.

    While this was horrible, unprofessional, and way over the top, the guards’ job was to enforce compliance with their commands. They may have gone way overboard, but they were performing within the range of their duties to get the compliance.

    The whole thing is likely on video, so I’m guessing there will be a review and they’ll probably drop the case. My fingers are crossed for that outcome for Dr. Watts.

    1. This will not endear me to most of you, but when a badged person says to get back in the car, you comply. In the States, you MUST comply IMMEDIATELY to a direct request from a law enforcement officer, REGARDLESS of how unfair you’re making him or her out to be at the time.

      You seem to have made a full-time gig out of defending abusive authority. You’re right. It’s not very endearing. It’s exactly the sort of attitude that has stripped away civil and human rights in the US and every other country. When you counsel people to bow to unjust authority just because it’s authority, you side with the worst in human nature.

    2. The police job is to ensure that law is respected, not that their orders are complied.

      On a more general level, in most countries, police main job is to deter criminals, not to punish them. This is although not true in the USA, where officers are allowed to “fish” for criminals, e.g. leaving an expensive car ostensibly open in a shady alley while setting up an ambush right behind the corner.

  204. DHS (the agency that sits on top of TSA, CBP, ICE, CG, etc.) is infamously inept. Call them lazy and foolish, but they are not coordinated enough to be jackbooted thugs.

    TSA, on the other hand, drives me freakin’ batshit. I was on the “Do Not Fly” registry because some IRA sympathizer shares my first initial and last name, or some other nonsense. I questioned the need to remove my shoes once. The screener gave me a clearly punitive search in order to teach me a lesson. My lesson is learned. I have a DHS ID, but I know to keep my tone flat, obey requests, and don’t do anything to attract attention.

    Coast Guard (my employer) has similar issues with public views of boat boarding. A boarding has gone from “annoying” to “scary” due to the new policy on armed boarding teams. People get defensive when scared. Which leads to “lippy” and “sarcastic” remarks.

    When crossing the border, being boarded or getting through a checkpoint – you are in control of how smoothly the exercise goes. Get them off your boat quickly by complying. Empty your pockets of all change. Have your license out and hands visible on the wheel. I’ve heard that crying and acting stupid works, once an incident has started. Demonstrating your education in Constitutional law is better left for another time. Most importantly, if a border incident that happened to someone else is going to keep you from traveling, you let them win.

  205. I would score this as a big win for Goldstein, (sorry, that should be bin Laden), except for the fact that the win is for the owners of the corporate-fascist state that the United States are gradually being turned into since he provided them with an excuse for their War on Dissent (sorry, that should be Terror, of course).

    The Land of the Free, with a constitution intended to prevent the abuses of imperialism (such as perpetrated by my own country), has become a banana republic, whose police and border guards are the byword for violent, authoritarian, thugs, and whose “patriots” bend over backwards to find ways to blame the victims of those destroying their country for their abuse.

  206. Many good point made by many folks. Some things to bear in mind:

    First, those people who automatically rush to defend the DHS officers may want to remember that while we don’t yet have independently verifiable facts about what happened in this case, we do have some data points. A great many abuses by border officers have been documented in America. More to the point, a years-long and increasingly serious trend of police abuse has been documented throughout America. Incidents include tasing or brutally beating and pepper-spraying innocent people — in some cases, unprovoked shootings. The victims of these increasingly serious police abuses have been as young as 6 years old (yes, a police officer has tased a six year old child) and a 72-year-old great grandmother tased by police for refusing to sign a traffic ticket.

    In light of these documented abuses, it’s probably unwise to automatically assume that “Peter Watts had it coming” or “he must have done something to provoke the officers.”

    Tangentially, it’s important to note that middle class people like Dr. Peter Watts who don’t typically interact with the police probably don’t realize just how radically police behavior has changed for the worse over the last few years. Undoubtedly most middle-class people assume, as I did before doing research and reading up on this growing problem, that police officers will treat you the way you’ve been treated prior to 9/11. In other words, middle class folks tend to assume that cops will be polite, treat your reasonably, and so on, because that’s the way cops have typically treated white middle-class people for many years.

    Since 9/11, however, something seems to have happened in the law enforcement community, and there now seems to be an attitude among LEOs that it’s okay to treat everyone (including ordinary middle class citizens) the way cops used to treat suspected drug dealers — shoot or tase first, ask questions afterward, and if you screw up, cover up. There’s too much hard evidence of this kind of growing abuse among LEOs to doubt it, including (but not limited to) the L.A. Rampart Division CRASH scandal in which officers planted evidence and lied in court, the more recent case in which New York district judge Jack Weinstein publicly stated that “there is a widespread problem with police officers falsifying evidence” as a result of false evidence planted by two NYC detectives, now indicted. The latest example of police abuse in this ever-growing trend is the exponentionally-worsening case of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputy, which has now escalated into an apparent criminal complaint against the judge who ruled against Arpaio.

    Obviously it’s not useful to speculate about what might have happened in the Watts case but we can make several pretty solid generalizations. People with doctorates very seldom engage in violent crime: Peter Watts has a doctorate. It follows that it’s extraordinarily unlikely that Dr. Peter Watts would have attacked a law enforcement officer.

    On a related note, it’s possible that Dr. Peter Watts hadn’t interacted with a law enforcement officer for so long that he had no idea how drastically their behavior has changed for the worse since 9/11.< ?A> It’s my experience nowadays that when interacting with a LEO, you must now ask permission to do things like open the door to your car and exit your vehicle, and that this permission may well be denied. Consequently if I’m stopped by a police officer for a moving violation I’ve learned to keep my hands in plain view, not to reach for the glove compartment without permission (police are now shooting motorists who reach for the glove compartment to get out their registration and proof of insurance), and to ask permission if I want to exit the vehicle.

    It’s entirely possible that Dr. Watts wasn’t aware how paranoid and trigger-happed law enforcement personnel have become over the last few years and as a result he got out of his vehicle without asking permission and the officers went berserk. If that sounds outlandish, consider that police are now routinely tasering 10-year-old girls and tasering motorists for taking too long to produce proof of insurance.

    Something has gone terribly wrong with law enforcement personnel in America. There’s an epidemic of police violence against innocent people. While we don’t know that the Watts case is an example, there’s enough hard evidence of this disturbing trend throughout America to assure us that it would be unwise to reflexively conclude that “Watts must have done something to provoke them.”

  207. I was visiting my bro in MI a couple of weeks back and popped over the border into Canada to visit relatives for a couple of days. Going into to Canada was fine… but coming back we were ‘selected for a random inspection’. Not sure why, but I think it might be that of the 3 of us in the car, 2 passports were UK, the other Japanese, and my passport has stamps from East Europe.

    We were herded into the dirty, smelly, tiny border office. The staff were miserable, borderline hostile. They asked the same 4 or 5 questions over and over again with serious attitude. They searched the car and bags without any of us being present. We also found a couple of things missing too (a tub of vitamins and 2 packs of cigarettes bought in the USA). You are made to feel like a criminal/terrorist even though I know I have nothing to hide. I had less trouble crossing the border from Hungary into Serbia, and back.

    This is all the more strange because the border people at DTW airport have never been anything but curteous and polite.

  208. You know, it’s comforting to know that the victim-blaming brigade comes out in full force even when the victim is a straight white older male, not just when it’s a woman or person of color being victimized. That’s almost cheering, in a way.

  209. Travelled to the US for work and holidays between 1998 and 2002.

    No problems in 1998 when I went for a holiday.

    In 2000, and country-hopping for work, I had to go from Stockholm to Toronto via Chicago. All passengers boarding at Stockholm for the US on American Airlines were made to stand alone just before the check-in counters and were given a 5 minute public interrogation worthy of the Nazis. Only the Teutonic accent was missing. Those deemed of interest (like me – I was brown skinned) were re-interviewed prior to boarding. Very unpleasant.

    In 2002, I was in the US for five months for work and I got interrogated on boarding all internal flights. Dallas and Chicago were the worst. Always the last to board and often having to take out my laptop and cables and take off my shoes at the boarding gate and then rescanned with a metal detector (after I had passed security!). My wife got treated despicably by Customs at LAX when coming to the US to meet me and missed her connecting flight to Dallas.

    After that trip, I vowed I would never travel to the US for any reason until some sense came back into the country. With Obama, I thought things might improve but on all evidence so far (including this story), things are getting worse.

  210. HOLY F***ing SH**!!
    I had a similar experience, minus about 80% of the violence at the same border crossing. Luckily it was more extreme frustration and waste of time than physical discomfort.

    They are absolute animals, who repeatedly threatened me.
    At one point they told me to move into another office for more questioning amidst it all. I reached to scratch my rear… it was itchy from sitting for hours. Someone said “jeez!” in excitement and reached for their FUCKING GUN!

    They asked why I was shaking, what I was nervous about and if I was hiding something… Yeah, I was nervous I was going to get my fucking head blown off for picking my nose or something.

  211. This story terrifies me. We crossed at Sarnia/Port Huron almost every weekend when I was growing up in the eighties. I was never afraid to cross the border because there was no reason to be afraid – we had done nothing wrong, we were just going (usually) for Sunday brunch at “The River Crab”. Last August when we crossed, we were subjected to very strange questions (where did you go to University, how long have you owned this vehicle, why don’t you shop in London instead of Port Huron, etc.)as well as a search of our back seat and trunk, and a request for our car keys during the interrogation. I almost had an anxiety attack, and I had done nothing wrong! From stories like these, it now seems as if a simple, innocent mistake, or an irritated border guard having a bad day could result in a similar experience to Dr. Watts’s very quickly. Please keep us updated on this situation!

  212. Why are you in such a hurry to leave ze DDR?

    Seriously, for you kids, this is exactly what we mocked the reds about during the cold war.

    ((also, is anyone else weirded out by the authoritarian fanboys? wtf))

    1. “is anyone else weirded out by the authoritarian fanboys? wtf”

      Is it the decade of pro-fascist propaganda passing as news and entertainment causing it? I guess there were always people who defend absolute state power, though. Just seems to be ‘cool’ now.

  213. That’s horrifying! I live in Sarnia, Ontario and the weather that day was painfully bitter even with two coats on. Nobody is allowed to cross the bridge on foot or bicycle anymore, but if he had tried in that weather with no jacket, he might not have survived, and would certainly have had frostbite.

    I just crossed that same border yesterday to get my NEXUS pass, and a friend linked me this article asking why I would ever want to risk going to the United States.

    The American guards are stern but it’s shocking that they’d do something like this. Tragic as well.

  214. Does anyone doubt how sick and fascist the u.s. has become?

    No matter how sad and pathetic the u.s. has become we still have to remember that Canadian border guards hassled Amy Goodman, that’s pretty low and Canadians know better.

    If the yank sickness spread to Canada I am heading for Europe, the last sane place in our modern world.

  215. There are border patrol assholes on both sides of the border. Most border patrol officers are nice people though. A few years ago I was going for a job interview in Vermont but would visit my family in Québec on the way. I took the road thru Ontario at a main entry not far from Kingston Ontario to take the 401.
    I am hearing impaired and can read someone lips. As the border patrol would get closer I saw him say “Another f***ing frog”. My New York plates stated “Tabarnac”.
    When he got by I said with a smile “What did you say?”
    That was a mistake as he got really pissy. He asked for my green card. I had shown him my Canadian passport which he refused saying that it was not acceptable since I had been in the USA for too long. He went away to another car.
    My green card was nowhere to be seen so as I was searching I would say “F***ing asshole”. I didn’t realize that he got to the windows and had an upset look at me.
    After a complete long search of the car he seemed angry as he didn’t find anything incriminating. I watched very closely so he couldn’t have any opportunity to plant something.
    He then warned me that if I wanted to work in Canada that I needed a work permit.
    Since I got my US Citizenship I either make sure that I cross the border in Québec or if I have to go to Ontario I make a point of saying that I am an American.
    I found out over the years that many Canadian border patrol officers have a deep hatred for French Canadians.

  216. This makes one wonder how tied up the border crossings are gonna be for the Olympics? Miles of cars on both sides of the line – a frelling nightmare. This is possibly why this has not been made into a big deal by both countries.

    I think I’ll skip the trip, loads of buckage are at stake for Canada if the border situation doesn’t get straightened out by both sides real quick.

  217. It’s not news in America that the cops and others authorized to “protect” us are frequently brutalizing citizens, breaking the law and are out of control. Who holds these jobs anyway? Those attracted to violence and power and authoritarianism. Retired guards from Abu Ghraib Prison and their ilk.

  218. I have just two questions for Peter.
    1) Have you ever been in legal trouble before for anything violent?
    2) At the border, who TOUCHED 1st (even just a hand on the shoulder)? Just a touch is all they need. They look for it.

    Thank you for your time.

    James Delling

  219. I doubt the story’s as simple as this cursory report makes it seem.

    Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. When I was crossing into Canada a few years ago, driving my Ford pick-up with a Six-Pack Camper, I was asked a series of rapid-fire questions by the person at the turnstile. When she asked what “country” I was from–a pretty stupid question, since we’re at the American-Canadian border, I answered “I’m from California.” To which she replied, “pull up over there on the right and stop your engine.”

    Three armed security guards, with a German Shepherd. They looked angry, and they were. “Get out of the car and stand 20 feet back!” one shouted. I had recently finished building my house, and as a consequence had some fairly large receipts for work done in my glove compartment. This was my vacation respite from a year’s labor. They opened both doors of the cab, and papers flew out one side (maps, receipts, newspapers, etc.) which they then picked up haphazardly, poring over them. They demanded my wallet, vehicle registration, passport, driver’s license, and credit cards, which they pocketed. They opened up the camper, and began removing everything in it and putting it on the pavement behind. I am a large format photographer, and there was lots of film in Kodak and Agfa boxes. They pulled out all the food, clothing, fishing gear, camera equipment. I begged them not to open the film boxes, since this would ruin the film–which precipitated an argument in which they agreed to open the boxes using my changing bag, indoors. They opened each food container, sticking their hands into cereal and cool-aid containers, etc. Meanwhile, the dog was put sniffing the vehicle from top to bottom, with especial attention given to the hub caps and the underside of the carriage. After 45 minutes of this, they threw my ID papers onto the ground with the mess of all the other stuff, and said “Alright, pick up this shit and get moving.”

    Welcome to Canada. For those Canadians tooting their horns, here, in my experience, it’s the Canadians who show the most rudeness of any national character. They’re much worse than the French. Canadians are openly hostile to Americans, as if we were all ambassadors of hip-hop, drug abuse and imperial aggression. Canada is a very pretty country, but based on my experience, Canadians need a lesson in manners and courtesy.

    Sorry for the rant, but fair is fair.

  220. Not to make any comment about the present case, but most countries in the world check passports and visas of everyone departing as a rule.

    I’m not saying this is a good thing, necessarily, but for the U.S. to do some kinds of departure checks is certainly not an outlandish thing.

  221. I’d recommend Peter find a good lawyer and sue the Border Patrol. Just the letting him off in shirt sleeves in freezing cold should be enough to get them to drop the charges and want to settle…
    I’d be surprised if it would be hard to get lawyers lining up to do it ‘on contingency’ (for a percentage of proceeds rather than an hourly rate)

  222. Should this have happened? No way. It’s horrible.

    But let’s think about it. Remember these aren’t cops. CBP and ICE are federal agents, not policemen. They are privy to all kinds of gov intelligence and they play by a whole different set of rules. Not only are they looking for drugs but the traffickers could be armed and dangerous. And since 9/11, could be a suicide bomber. One mistake and they’re all dead. Or a lot of citizens die because they screwed up. Rental cars are a red flag.

    Yes you do have to be cautious in what you say anymore. If they ask if the car is yours and you respond… “nah, I rented this BOMB”… well, you could be in for some serious sh*t. You’re wondering why they don’t laugh. They’re thinking it may be a freudian slip and they could be dead in a few seconds.

    If there’s one agent there, it’s one thing. But if there’s a bunch of them, it’s likely they have a tip about something. And they could be really on edge and not in any mood for jokes.

    Again, looks like they may have overstepped their bounds and should be reprimanded. But without hearing both sides it’s hard to make a judgement.

  223. How dare he get out of his vehicle and challenge authority!! J/k but seriously now…

    The law is very clear that an individual (national, or foreign national) is required to obey all orders given by a law enforcement agent (federal, state or city) as long as that order is not instructing the individual to perpetrate an illegal activity. In other words a police officer can litterally order you to take off your shirt and shoes, stand on one leg and bark like a dog while flapping your arms like a chicken. By law you MUST do it or go to jail. On the flip side the police officer must have proper justification for his orders.
    And YES a police officer can order you, and your entire family out of your home, and into the street in the middle of winter without a search warrant. YES a police officer can come up with almost any “Probable cause” reason to just walk into your home and search it without a search warrant. “I smell marijuanna”… “My mistake, looks like your cooking dinner, but while im here do you have these firearms liscensed? Did you pay a tax stamp for this Tequilla from Mexico? This beer is from Texas, Your under arrest for transporting alcohol illegally. Human Services is on their way to take your children while you await arraignment”
    It happens thats fast. Your children are given to a stranger, sexually molested, and given back to you with none of the clothes they had when they were taken. You spend the next 6 months to a year fighting a black marketing charge for having left over beer from texas.

    My advice? If anyone with a badge tells you to get back into your vehicle, you do it! And you do it FAST!
    Likewise If anyone with a badge knocks on your front door claiming your parked to close to the stop sign, dont get an attitude and argue. Do what ever they say!

  224. There is much to be learned from reading people’s experiences at the border, and some good advice. If anyone has an idea of how we can start to train and indoctrinate border patrol and the rest of the law enforcement officers to calm down, get some rationality and humanity, please start a movement! In the mean time, remember that most of these people are very literal-minded. Like dogs, they are sensitive to and respond to emotion, so practice extreme control over yourself. Chose you words carefully. They do NOT have a sense of humor, nor do they appreciate sarcasm. Do NOT use this language, speak in flat, plain, literal language. And this can help limit the chances you’ll have problems.

  225. Anon 407 good point. I read in MSM about county cops with wrong address on drug raid that burst through door, terrorized elderly lady, shot two dogs dead, handcuffed the man of the house in his underwear for 3 hours – not so much as an apology. The man is the MAYOR!
    Point: at least pets were not killed, children put in state care, etc.

  226. Obviously I didnt witness the incident but I wonder if at anytime Mr. Watts placed a hand on the officer. Even if he placed a light touch on the officers arm to non-verbally ask for the officers attention the border patrol will argue that was a physical assult by Mr. Watts. Now if he had been stopped by the EPA or DOT he would have never been heard from again.
    I hope it turns out well for Mr. Watts.

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