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 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.
In Peter's own words written last Friday:
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.
The Facebook page Against The Arrest and Beating of Peter Watts had 20 members when I found it on Friday night. By the time I clicked the JOIN button, there were 23, one being me. The numbers increased progressively over the weekend, with 1,170 members a few minutes ago -- around 4 days after the page was first created.
Jill and I are going spend the family Christmas fund on a donation to Peter's defense costs, and I encourage others to donate as well. I do this entirely selfishly: if this can happen to an articulate, personable white guy like Peter, then what are the prospects for me?
Robert Ashby raises the related question "since when did 'at least I didn’t get strip-searched and beaten' become our standard of service?". Robert's essay is a companion piece to Madeline Ashby's post on the subject on her blog.
Here is a selection of online articles which have appeared in the last week:
The definitive story appeared on David Nickle's blog with a posting about the initial incident, with a brief correction and a follow-up post providing details of how Bakka-Phoenix Books is helping to get donations to Peter.
Article on BoingBoing with a follow-up post on Making Light which makes reference to the "demonstrable mendaciousness" of the account in the Port Huron Times-Herald. Both the BoingBoing and Making Light discussion threads became politicized, with trolls appearing in force. Charles Stross, who conducted an interview with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman at the last Worldcon in Montreal, and who shared a book reading with Peter at the same convention, found it necessary to stomp a troll.
The Globe and Mail article raises interesting questions related to privacy.
Article in the Toronto Star. The spokesman for the US border crossing at Sarnia insists that Peter "assaulted" their officers. What would have happened to him had he waived his Miranda rights?
John Scalzi's Whatever blog with a post on Helping Out Peter Watts.
John McDaid appears to have the definitive summary of the news coverage.
Not The Best of Possible Worlds on Dec 11, quoted above.
Squidgate. Update. later on Dec 11.
Happiness is a Warm Parka. And Friends I Didn’t Know I Had. from Dec 13.
Donations: As noted previously, cheques can be made out to Peter Watts, and mailed to Bakka-Phoenix Science Fiction Bookstore, 697 Queen St. West / Toronto, Ontario / M6J 1E6. Cash donations will also be accepted if you drop by the store. Electronic payments may be made to donate(at)rifters.com, or via this link.