|U.S. border guards arrest author Peter Watts
||[Dec. 14th, 2009|01:17 pm]
Published On Sat Dec 12 2009
For Peter Watts, life can be stranger than science fiction.
Watts – who has written six such books – was on his way back to Toronto last Tuesday after helping a friend move to the U.S. Before crossing the Blue Water Bridge into Sarnia, American customs officers pulled him over. He says when they began rifling through his car and luggage, he got out. They ordered him back in the car; he asked what was going on.
What happened next has become the talk of the blogosphere: Watts too has waded in on it, posting that he was assaulted, punched in the face, pepper-sprayed and thrown in jail for the night, only to find that he was the one charged – with assaulting a customs officer.
Customs officials told the Star Watts was given directions "and became non-compliant...he did not follow directions and a physical altercation" ensued.
An officer with the Port Huron police told the local newspaper that Watts "angrily" got out of the rental car and when he refused to get back in, they tried to cuff him and he became "aggressive." In the melee, police said, Watts "choked" a customs officer.
"As a result of that he was detained and turned over to local authorities," says Ronald Smith, chief customs and border protection officer at Blue Water, adding officers were conducing "outbound operations" stopping and inspecting vehicles after the toll booths but before they hit Canadian customs.
Watts empatically denies any such action.
"I can state categorically that I did not choke anybody, I did not use profanity and did not raise my voice, I did not initiate any physical contact," says Watts, who is also a marine biologist with a PhD in zoology.
"All I basically did was use words to ask what was going on."
Now, friends are raising funds online to help Watts to help him cover his legal costs, which he says are overwhelming for someone who makes a living as an author.
Fellow sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow, who blogged about the incident at boingboing.net, chipped in $1,000 right off the bat – and while no one will say how much has been raised in total, friend David Nickle said it's enough to get Watts through the first hurdle. Should the case go to trial, friends will arrange a fundraiser.
"It's a bit like trying to figure out the mindset of a grizzly bear," Watts said when asked why officers attacked him.
Watts' next court appearance is Dec. 22. If eventually convicted, it's a felony charge that could see him imprisoned for two years and a possible fine of up to $2,000.
Watts had driven to Nebraska with a friend to help a retired University of Toronto professor move there, but their rental car had broken down. The two were driving a replacement car the rental agency had provided in the U.S.
After the incident, Watts' friend was arrested and interrogated, but not charged.
Watts, however, spent the night in jail, in the standard orange jumpsuit, and was released the next day on $5,000 bail. He was dropped off across the border at Canadian customs, without his coat – it was in the car, which was impounded – during a winter storm.
Watts is overwhelmed by the online donations, and jokes that while most people must be supportive, "it's quite possible that some people think I'm a ...jerk, but they hate homeland security more."
If more money is raised than he needs, it will be donated to charity, he said.
Among the many comments posted at boingboing.net, are some suggesting Watts must have had an attitude when dealing with customs.
"The question is what is attitude?" he said. "I've been told by cops in the system that the mere act of getting out of a car, the mere act of taking any action at all, not simply responding to an order...is considered attitude...what they take offence to is not necessarily what anyone else would find offensive."