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Peter Watts sentencing update
April 27, 2010 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Update to this thread on the arrest of Peter Watts.

At least he won't be serving a jail term. Sixty days, suspended on payment of fine, court costs, etc. This is a relief, as according to his blog recently, the presentencing report was recommending four to six months. GRAR levels remain at simmer.
posted by Drastic to MetaFilter-Related at 2:07 PM (54 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Pete, I mean this in the nicest way: don't come back. Sorry our borders are patrolled by literally the stupidest guys we could find.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:09 PM on April 27, 2010 [13 favorites]


He added Watts already was being punished before the sentencing had been delivered, because he no longer would be able to travel into the United States with the felony conviction.

oh wait um problem solved yay america
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:11 PM on April 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


I know sentencing recommendation blah blah but GRAR FOUR TO SIX MONTHS.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:24 PM on April 27, 2010


My GRAR is on panfry.
posted by Skorgu at 3:10 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Living in Michigan (and formerly living in the same county as Port Urine (no kidding, that's pretty close to the way locals pronounce the name of the Gateway to Sarnia), I have to agree with the posters in the original thread that the bonehead border guards are on the US side. I used to travel regularly between here & Syracuse, NY, crossing at Detroit & Niagara. I always had polite encounters with the Canadian side, and routinely had problems with the Americans.

My sympathies are with Mr. Watts, although I have neither read his case nor his books.

On one trip back to Detroit from Montreal, we crossed the border south of Montreal, then went back into Canada & crossed again several hours later near Kingston, ON. The US border guards on the third crossing had about half an hour's worth of questions about why exactly I was crossing the border so many times in one day. I wasn't in a rental car, though, and my answers bordered on obsequiousness.

Another time crossing back at Windsor, getting there around midnight, the US border patrol were going through a (iirc) union mandated slowdown, resulting in a 3 hour delay, and lots of trucks with drivers whose tempers were at a boiling point. The guards searched every car and truck, if somewhat perfunctorily. Again, if I had expressed my true feelings, I might have had the same result as Mr. Watts.
posted by beelzbubba at 3:35 PM on April 27, 2010


(no kidding, that's pretty close to the way locals pronounce the name of the Gateway to Sarnia

Years ago I simply started saying "Port Urine" all the time and so far no one has noticed, at least no one in Port Urine.
posted by GuyZero at 4:00 PM on April 27, 2010


I've personally found it much easier coming back into the US than going into Canada, but then I've never been beaten by either side.

One time it almost seemed too easy. It was me, Asian male, driving back to Chicago through Port Huron along with two female friends and the US guard didn't check for anything. She asked if we had bought anything (I owned up to a few boxes of Canadian Smarties.) and if we were US citizens and just waved us along without checking for ID of any kind. On the other hand, when we'd crossed into Canada a few days earlier we had our van searched and been interrogated on where we were going and what we were doing. The agent actually threatened to turn us back because we mostly had credit cards instead of bundles of cash.

And one of my friends seems to be blacklisted from going into Canada for no reason we can figure out. She had to mount an elaborate scheme just to get her cats, who'd been staying with friends in rural Ontario, out of Canada.

Though, there was also once when I drove into Canada with all my earthly possessions in my car and the border agent let me through with no fuss. I think in the end a lot of it just depends on luck and what kind of an agent you happen to run into.
posted by kmz at 4:00 PM on April 27, 2010


he got off lucky. those guys' jobs are SO. HARD you guys.
posted by shmegegge at 4:09 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


he got off lucky.

You're right, considering that he and his passengers are still alive.

Blah, I can't even write about this because I'm all grarred out!
posted by snsranch at 4:21 PM on April 27, 2010


My friend from Jeddo assures me that "Poured Urine" is the proper pronunciation.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:38 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was stopped by the Canadians one time coming back from the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. Because my car had to be jumped in the parking lot back in Detroit, and even our border guards tend to be pretty reasonable people, I asked that they not leave my doors open (light on) while they searched my car. I got pretty pissy when they ignored my request and was subsequently moved to a sidewalk about 20 feet away. I took that as an opportunity to yell out, "not even the fuckin' Americans are this bad". Next thing I knew, a dude comes over, escorts me to my car, and tells me to turn around and go home. "You're not welcome in Canada, sir." After pointing to my Ontario plates, I was immediately allowed in.

Having said that, my experiences with U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been shit for a while now. While not a land crossing, my most recent run-in occurred just last month on my way to New York for a Mefi meet-up, of all things. Knowing my own situation, I arrive at the airport four hours in advance in order to allow the bastards enough time for screening me. Walk up to customs and trade my passport for a 8.5x11 bright yellow laminated 'sign' which marks me. I'm waiting in the main room with a British lady and her U.S. husband who has multiple sclerosis. She helps her husband up to the TSA official's podium and after printing/retina scan, asks if he can sit down as he has M.S. The prick declines! Tells her he has to stand there until he's done registering them.

Very quickly after my initial interview, I was taken to a separate area for questioning. Dude sits down beside me. No hello. Just, "Do you know what my job here is? My job is to find a reason not to let people in, and I love finding reasons not to let people in."

After that things were fairly average - until he asked me why I travel to the places I do. I said it's because I'm curious about other cultures. He then replies with, "that worries me".

"It worries you that I am curious about other people's cultures?"

"Yes."

"Well, it worries me that that worries you."

He then gets up points a to a black and white photo of the World Trade Centres, and asks me if I know who "took the towers down". I was fuckin' shocked. Didn't say a word.

"That's right. People from the countries you're so interested in."

I didn't think there was a chance in hell I was getting in this time, but in the end, after two and a half hours, I did... minus the piece of Bamiyan Buddha I brought down as a gift for Uburoivas. I travel pretty light. I'd brought all my shit for the weekend in a carry-on shoe store bag. Buddy obviously ripped it apart, checked out the slogans on my tshirts, played a DVD I had on me, and questioned me hard about the stone (which was in a tiny ziploc with a small locket I was gonna put it in). Because I knew the word "Afghanistan" would raise flags, I told him it was from Thailand (ziploc had Sanskrit writing on it). When he asked me why a piece of rock was important, I explained that it was given to me by a friend in Bangkok and it was sentimental. Unfortunately, I didn't notice that the asshole kept it. When I called the TSA at Pearson Airport after I got home and explained what happened, they said it wasn't in their possession.

I wish I didn't have to subject myself to that crap, but I have friends there and unfortunately a lot of flights connect through the U.S.
posted by gman at 4:55 PM on April 27, 2010 [115 favorites]


Oh my god gman
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:59 PM on April 27, 2010


Just favorited gman's comment for the sole purpose of bringing attention to it. Jeez man, while I'd hate to Godwin anything, this is pretty close.
posted by snsranch at 5:17 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I favorited gman's comment because I'm collecting information on him that I plan to one day turn over to the proper authorities. Try to bring foreign rocks into my country, will ya.
posted by heyho at 5:27 PM on April 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


If you find out about other cultures, you'll be less likely to enjoy us bombing the fuck out of them gman. It's for your own good.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:46 PM on April 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Maybe we should stop using Observe and Report as a training video for the border types.
posted by adipocere at 5:48 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


From TOR. com, a good writeup of the events from the gallery by fellow Canadian writer Madeline Ashby: Sometimes We Win.

Obviously no jail time must be a huge relief, but I'd classify it as less of a loss than it might have been given Watts can't enter the United States. Which is definitely a loss to him for both personal and professional reasons.

Seems like everybody involved knows a couple of the border guys were thuggish assholes and tried to mitigate things as much as possible. Except the prosecutor, who could have declined to bring charges in the first place. I suppose the job of D.A. doesn't exactly lend itself to attracting people who are going to decline to prosecute cases where they are fairly sure they can get a conviction. Which is one of the problems with the system, really.
posted by Justinian at 6:20 PM on April 27, 2010


"It worries you that I am curious about other people's cultures?"

"Yes."

"Well, it worries me that that worries you."

He then gets up points a to a black and white photo of the World Trade Centres, and asks me if I know who "took the towers down". I was fuckin' shocked. Didn't say a word.

"That's right. People from the countries you're so interested in."


That's just about the most offensive thing I've read in ages.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:25 PM on April 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Just to recap: A Scottish cab driver is more effective against terrorism than this whole hellish security theater nightmare.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:37 PM on April 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've always had fine interactions with border guards at any Canada/US border (including Mtl and Vancouver airports, I never went through Toronto). In fact, I recommend crossing the border legally, as a youngish (but not too young so they think you're a druggie) white female with two kittens who desperately want to escape the window, one from your lap, the other from your shoulder. You will never have an easier border crossing.
posted by jeather at 7:18 PM on April 27, 2010


I wish I didn't have to subject myself to that crap, but I have friends there and unfortunately a lot of flights connect through the U.S.

After years of avoiding transiting through the US, I might be making my first ever trip there this year, and I'm slowly working up my anxiety levels hearing stories like these. And I've been through El-al's security without a hitch. Argh.
posted by dhruva at 7:31 PM on April 27, 2010


I remember back in the early 1980's when the drinking age in Michigan was 21 and 18 in Canada. The Canadians would ask what we were going over for, and we'd say "To get drunk!" On the way back the U.S. folks would ask what we had been doing, we'd say "Spent the evening in Windsor, Sir!" and they'd wave us through.
posted by marxchivist at 8:08 PM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I do recommend not having a sweatshirt with the unamerican.com logo on top of the pile of laundry in your car when your crossing into Montana. It turns out they frown on that sort of thing.
posted by khaibit at 8:44 PM on April 27, 2010


If this is turning into the dissing various countries' border people, I would have to say that 1) The Brazilian immigration people were dicks and almost made me miss my flight BACK to the US for no reason and 2) I hear secondhand from many that British immigration (or whatever they call it there) are mean as hell, especially to Americans.
posted by ishotjr at 10:23 PM on April 27, 2010


I remember back in the early 1980's when the drinking age in Michigan was 21 and 18 in Canada. The Canadians would ask what we were going over for, and we'd say "To get drunk!"

Typical. Godless Canadians corrupting our young people with liquor.
posted by homunculus at 11:01 PM on April 27, 2010


JFK, 2005, August. Coming back from family visit in Germany, my wife (greencard-carrying very not interesting mother of a one-year-old) is asked to 'go to that office over there' to speak with some gentleman behind a desk about ... well, he couldn't say either. I waited with our son just outside passport control, I (US citizen and also thoroughly benign) am not aloud to come anywhere near and after an hour, am turned away each time I try to ask her for the baby formula, which is in her bag.
The stupid is strong with these people.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:57 PM on April 27, 2010


I'm pleased I visited the US in 1996. It means I can say that I've been, and I thought that New York was a very cool place. I have exactly zero intention of going there now, as a direct consequence of the Peter Watts story and tales in the original Metafilter thread on it. Seriously - why do they choose to staff their borders with such fuckwits?

Canada on the other hand, well that's a great place. Been several times. Will go again. A+++ FINE COUNTRY WILL VISIT.
posted by handee at 12:44 AM on April 28, 2010


First up, I'm happy Peter Watts has got a better outcome than was forecast, but I'd really like someone to challenge this bullshit that crops up so often of law enforcement officers basically making up testimony.

gman - wow. Where to start. If someone told me that I was suspect because "People from the countries I'm so interested in" committed terrorism I'd point out - assuming I had the presence of mind - that without people interested in languages and other cultures the CIA, amongst other agencies, would be as useless as a chocolate fireguard.

Long before 9/11 and the cult of security theatre, my folks (both ex-military and conservative) used to regularly say how scary it was that customs and immigration had so little oversight. Rien ne change.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:52 AM on April 28, 2010


So how do we fix it?
posted by maxwelton at 2:18 AM on April 28, 2010


Peter Watt's has commented on his blog.
posted by handee at 3:10 AM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Watts, of course. Where did that apostrophe come from? I'm sure I didn't type it.
posted by handee at 3:12 AM on April 28, 2010


We (Americans) went through UK border control last week at Heathrow and it was speedy and nearly perfunctory. And polite. We'll see what happens when we head home.
posted by rtha at 3:19 AM on April 28, 2010


Try to bring foreign rocks into my country, will ya.

What's more he was bringing it as a gift for a non-American..

Flagged gman's comment as fantastic: deserves wide attention.

I hear secondhand from many that British immigration (or whatever they call it there) are mean as hell, especially to Americans.

I've found them to be pretty good recently, compared to 10-12 years ago, even when I've stood in the wrong line. Though I'm white, and with a good (skilled migrant) visa. I've noticed them pay more attention to Asians and maybe other non-white visitors, especially if they're on a student visa. Americans I can't say. [I will say that the 'foreigners' line at Heathrow immigration says something like 'foreigners, including Americans' - suggesting that maybe a significant number of Americans are trying to go through the local line, and maybe getting annoyed when they're told to queue with the foreigners? OK, I'm drawing a long bow there, but maybe it's not just immigration's fault]

After years of avoiding transiting through the US, I might be making my first ever trip there this year, and I'm slowly working up my anxiety levels hearing stories like these.

I always feel anxious like that, and I've always been fine so far. (Though note disclaimer about being white (and from English-speaking friend of US).
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:22 AM on April 28, 2010


From Peter Watts' blog (via handee):

And I did pay, promptly if not exactly gladly. If I’d gone to jail I’d have ended up paying more than that anyway: St. Clair County charges its inmates $60/day room and board

I'm currently scraping my jaw off the floor.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:16 AM on April 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Don't get me started on the shit US customs would give me back when I used to smuggle drugs in from Mexico.
posted by item at 4:44 AM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


What's more he was bringing it as a gift for a non-American..

For some reason he didn't actually ask me who I was visiting in New York. Which is funny, because the entire time I was thinking to myself how bad it would sound if I told him I was hooking up with people I met on the internet, and the fact that I didn't know anyone's last name.

One part of the story I forgot to mention - while we were talking about the piece of rock, he raises an eyebrow and with a smirk on his face, says "it could be used to hit someone in the head". I shit you not. A 10 gram piece of nothing.
posted by gman at 4:47 AM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let's face it gman, don't you have a beard?
My brother in law from Montreal has been questioned and searched on every visit but he is not only bearded, but swarthy!

We will have none of that Canadian bearded swarthiness, no sir!
posted by readery at 5:26 AM on April 28, 2010


Every time I travel out of state I think about the petroleum engineers I met on a trip to Indonesia in '92. They had long hair, one of 'em had an earring, and oh yes they did get cavity searched. Now whenever I go further afield than Milwaukee I make sure my hair's trimmed and clothes are as tidy as possible.
posted by jtron at 6:38 AM on April 28, 2010


Very quickly after my initial interview, I was taken to a separate area for questioning. Dude sits down beside me. No hello. Just, "Do you know what my job here is? My job is to find a reason not to let people in, and I love finding reasons not to let people in."

Yup. 2004 (or 2005, I forget). I'm on my way to Toronto from Cleveland to do the CIBC Run for the Cure with my friends from Knitty.com. I've only got a shoulder bag for the weekend, and there is practically more yarn in it than clothes since I'm in the middle of knitting a big sweater. I got questioned about the most ridiculous shit imaginable, but her tone was just precious -- she implied I was trying to emigrate (yes, that's me...me and my shoulder bag, lady) and that I was a threat because I met most of the people I would be doing the run with online. Dangerous terrorist knitter, me. Sorry I raised money for your country's breast cancer charity, how dare I?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:51 AM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


jtron : I do that everytime I have to cross a border - in my experience every time I don't shave/dress nicely I consistently get stopped and searched
posted by motdiem2 at 7:41 AM on April 28, 2010


Back in 1997 or thereabouts I had been cisitng friends in BC, and we'd gone for a few days to Hornby Island. It was winter, but the weather was spectacular so we went for a lot of walks on the beach. I am somewhat magpie-ish and found the beautiful stones and driftwood on the beach impossible to resist. Some of the driftwood pieces were three or four feet long.

For my flight back to DC I carefully packed all my rocks in my carry-on and bundled the driftwood together into a long sort of packet that was cushioned with dirty laundry and then ends and wrapped in several layers of black garbage bags and
duck tape. Border control and US customs both asked me what the deal was and I said "rocks and driftwood" and they were all "yeah, okay" and that was that. I was a scruffy-looking thirtysomething with long hair and filthy jeans.

I don't know what I would've done if they'd taken away my rocks. Seriously. They're beautiful.
posted by rtha at 8:06 AM on April 28, 2010


No hello. Just, "Do you know what my job here is? My job is to find a reason not to let people in, and I love finding reasons not to let people in."

Strike one.

After that things were fairly average - until he asked me why I travel to the places I do. I said it's because I'm curious about other cultures. He then replies with, "that worries me".

"It worries you that I am curious about other people's cultures?"

"Yes."


Strike two.

"Well, it worries me that that worries you."

He then gets up points a to a black and white photo of the World Trade Centres, and asks me if I know who "took the towers down". I was fuckin' shocked. Didn't say a word.

"That's right. People from the countries you're so interested in."


Strike three.

This guy should be permanently banned from any position of authority.
posted by DU at 9:20 AM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Weird. I've come back to the US from Muslim countries several times, bearded with a kufi and laden with piles of overstuffed baggage full of all kinds of souvenirs and have never spent more than 60 seconds clearing customs or DHS checkpoints. Once, a guy asked me some polite questions about where I had been that seemed to hover between genuine personal interest and SOP to trip up someone with a cover story, but that lasted all of 30 seconds.

I'm pretty sure I've already been checked out by the FBI and deemed a non-terrorist, though.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:15 AM on April 28, 2010


I think things have gotten a lot tougher since 9/11. I once made it into and out of Canada (this was 1997) without so much as a driver's license. I guess it helps that I'm pretty darn white. In fact, I cite that incident as my real world example of white privilege, the few times I've had to explain what that was.
posted by norm at 11:12 AM on April 28, 2010


I think things have gotten a lot tougher since 9/11.

Even after 9/11, we've crossed at Port Huron and Niagara Falls many times without being asked for ID. That's stopped with the passport/EDL requirement though.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:16 AM on April 28, 2010


My sister and her then-boyfriend now fiancee were crossing the border from Canada (probably in back into Maine). They asked them to get out of the car so they could search the trunk, asked them about fruits and vegetables, etc. They stood about 15 feet away while the searcher popped the trunk and pulled out a small leather pouch and held it suspiciously. They noticed what he had in his hands and started laughing to each other and pointing it out to each other.

He opened the pouch, still suspicious but a bit confused, and poured about 15 polyhedral dice into his hand. He openly laughed at himself, put the dice back in the bag, and walked over and handed it to them. Waving them on without bothering to search the rest of the car.

I think they rolled a 20 on their save against security theatre.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:13 PM on April 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


For some reason he didn't actually ask me who I was visiting in New York. Which is funny, because the entire time I was thinking to myself how bad it would sound if I told him I was hooking up with people I met on the internet, and the fact that I didn't know anyone's last name.

"Yeah, there's a bunch of us all over the world. Occasionally we meet up in person, but not very often. If somebody shows up from overseas, local members might arrange to meet them, but mostly we communicate online. We use "handles" instead of names, and a lot of our interaction is in terms only familiar to insiders, like joking about portabello mushroom- "

"PORTABLE MUSHROOM CLOUDS?!??!!!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:05 PM on April 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


I flew to PEI via Halifax the week before 9-11 and nearly missed my connection (and the last flight of the day)because of the way Canadian customs was going through my things. The attack would have never happened if these two women had been in charge.

My last trip to Canada was a day trip to Campobello. On the way in I was asked about guns and to pop the trunk. US border control asked about drugs and why the car had VA plates if I had a NY license. I told them that was what the rental company gave me.
posted by brujita at 10:57 PM on April 28, 2010


in my experience every time I don't shave/dress nicely I consistently get stopped and searched

Hey, they're like Reagan ... they've seen the movies! Bad guys always look crusty! Well okay, except for J.W. Gacy and Ted Bundy, but you know what I mean.

Which is why your momma always made you wear clean underwear to the doctor's office.
posted by Twang at 4:39 PM on April 29, 2010


Pre-9-11, Canadian women and older US men at Customs meant some hassle. Post-9-11, all US Customs officers are going to hassle everyone. The Canadians are stricter than they used to be, but not by the order of magnitude that the USians up-assholed.

I got questioned aggressively because I'd gone to Iceland twice in one year. Did they think I was smuggling sheep in my suitcase?

I grew up going to Windsor for lunch or crossing the Bridge to hit the 24 hour McDonald's for a middle of the night snack. Never had to carry anything special, never had to worry (well, except the time I was moving home from college, with Siberian dwarf hamsters and no inventory for the truck, but that was minor). Since 9-11, I've had one no hassle, pleasant boarder crossing into the US.

The Constitution doesn't apply to Customs. They can and will do anything they want. And that is just Unamerican.

(US citizen, white, middle class, middle aged female.)
posted by QIbHom at 9:53 AM on April 30, 2010


Podcast interview with Peter Watts which is less of an interview and more a case of him telling the story. Interesting stuff... And chilling.
posted by handee at 10:10 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


With reference to my previous comment... "stupid bi-neuronal brain stems" heheh.
posted by handee at 10:12 AM on May 25, 2010


That interview handee links is great, almost FPPable in itself. Well worth the listening time.
posted by Artw at 7:06 AM on May 26, 2010


Possibly a better link
posted by Artw at 7:07 AM on May 26, 2010


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