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Canadian SF author says he was beaten by US border guards

The blogosphere erupted this weekend about the alleged beating of Dr. Peter Watts, a Canadian science fiction author, by American border guards in Michigan.

Another SF author, Cory Doctorow, broke the story on Boing Boing:

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.

Watts reported the incident on his own website:

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.

The story moved across the blogosphere this weekend, generating almost 1,800 hits in a Google blog search for "Peter Watts" limited to Friday and Saturday.

The Port Huron Times-Herald described the incident, quoting police captain Jim Jones as saying "a border officer used pepper spray to subdue Watts. Jones said Watts 'choked' an officer during the struggle."

Watts, who holds a Ph.D. in marine biology, was released on a $5,000 bond and must appear in a US court on December 22. If he is convicted, he could be jailed for two years and fined up to US$2,000.

The story has also reached The Star, the National Post, and the Globe and Mail.

Watts did not respond to The Tyee's request for details about the incident.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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