Frank Touby
The Bulletin
December 22, 2009

Editor’s note: Canadian MP Rosario Marchese wrote the following. It was sent to by Frank Touby, editor of The Bulletin in Toronto.

Recently there has been an apparent increase in police brutality and the coercive use of force by governments around the world. There have been several high-profile cases of Canadians held behind foreign borders, facing imprisonment and malicious prosecution. The Canadian government has been slow to act in these cases, or sometimes even actively supports their detention.

While many of the recent cases have involved war-torn or developing countries, this is not always so. I was recently alerted to a worrying situation involving a Toronto resident attempting to re-enter Canada at the Sarnia/Port Huron border crossing.

On Dec. 9, St. Lawrence Neighbourhood resident Dr. Peter Watts, a Hugo Award-nominated science fiction writer, was travelling from the U.S. back into Canada. According to varied reports, U.S. Border Patrol guards stopped him before he reached the Canadian border to search his vehicle. When he exited the car to ask why he was being searched, the situation rapidly escalated.

[efoods]Watts says he was “punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, shit-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell for three f*ing 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.)”

Eventually he was released on the Canadian side of the border, but U.S. Border Patrol impounded his vehicle and retained all his personal belongings, including his computer and jacket. He now faces a felony charge for “assaulting a federal officer.” The U.S. Border Patrol alleges that Watts choked an officer during the altercation. Watts insists that he is innocent and has a witness and video footage in his defence. The video has not been publicly released, due to the pending trial.

While the details and final outcome of this case are still unknown, it highlights an issue that is of growing importance: the defence of Canadians abroad by their government. Unlike other recent cases, in this instance there are no questions of identity fraud or terrorist activity. Watts is a respected author who had briefly travelled to Nebraska to help a friend move.

He was leaving the United States when the U.S. Border Services began their inspection. He is now facing substantial fines and a possible 2-year prison sentence.

Support for Watts has come from a variety of sources. Donations to his legal defence have been pouring in from members of the public. Despite the considerable moral and financial support he has received from the public, there has been no support from the federal government.

Regardless of skin colour or gender, regardless of destination, or duration abroad, all Canadian citizens deserve the protection of their government abroad. One of the reasons for the modern diplomatic system of consulates and embassies is to offer protection and aid to Canadians travelling abroad. It is imperative that we as Canadians not allow such protections to be eroded or weakened.

I urge the Government of Canada to take a strong stand in the defence of all Canadians. The Minister of Immigration should investigate the abuse of Dr. Watt’s rights. In an age where fear and coercion are increasingly the tools of all states, we as Canadians must be able to trust our government to defend our rights when unfairly harassed.

To support Dr. Watts, please contact the Bakka Phoenix Bookstore at [email protected] or 416-963-9993. If you agree with what I am saying, or have any questions, please contact my office at [email protected], or by calling 416-603-9664.

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