Candian SF writer Peter Watts detained and beaten at US border

Published On December 12, 2009 | By Joe Gordon | Books

There’s a growing storm out outrage gathering rapidly around the science fiction community online at news from respected Canadian author Doctor Peter Watts. Crossing over from Canada’s southern neighbour last week Peter was apparently detained then assaulted by US border security before being thrown into jail. On Boing Boing fellow Cannuck and SF writer Cory Doctorow details how he found out what had happened to his friend: “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.

Peter Watts photo by Dan Brooks

(Peter Watts, photo by Dan Brooks, borrowed from Peter’s site)

Writing on his own blog Peter has described events: “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.”

Apologies for lifting so much text from another site – it isn’t something I normally do, but given the gravity of the situation I thought it was acceptable in this instance. Peter is now safely home (after being released without his possessions in the middle of a winter storm, a nice, Dickensian touch on the part of the security goons), but as Cory points out he has to return to face charges (all the more galling as he is being charged for assaulting a federal officer when he maintains it was the reverse which happened) and this carries the risk of significant potential jail time for the writer and, even if he is completely vindicated, a huge amount of legal expense (shouldn’t his own government be investigating why one of their citizens was allegedly assaulted and detained in a friendly, allied country?). So as Cory notes some of Peter’s friends are already on the case to start raising funds for a legal defence; details on BoingBoing. You can also read online versions of Peter’s SF free via his site.

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About The Author

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon is’s chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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